In his antology on Scottish artists “Scottish art 1460-2000”, Professor Duncan McMillan dedicated only a small paragraph to Jack Vettriano, dismissing him by affirming that “He´s welcome to paint, as long as no one takes him seriously.” Yet, Vettriano, a self taught painter, the son of a miner, born and raised in a small and unknown seaside Scottish town, today is still the most well-known and beloved British painter. An artist, whose painting “The Singing Butler” was sold at an auction in 2004 for 744 800 British sterling, and the reproductions of which make it the foremost bestselling art print of the UK, outselling icons of art like Monet, Klimt and Van Gogh.
It is not easy to understand why among many “The Singing Butler” has become Vettriano’s most recognizable piece of art. Maybe the thing, which captures the attention of the public, is the fulfillment of the so called “carpe diem”. In actuality, what we see depicted is a young couple in expensive clothes dancing on a wet seashore, accompanied by a singing butler and a worried maid with the storm approaching above them. The image could be interpreted as an attempt to catch beauty in every moment of our lives, to try to live in glamour and style while overcoming obstacles (the wet sand) because, ultimately, we are bound to became old, unattractive and weak (the storm).
What makes Vettriano distinguished and appreciated by the public is the masterful and meaningful combination of emotions and narrative in each painting, as well as the several focal topics.
The game of seduction, the prelude to a romance at the verge of exploding is yet another reaccuring theme in Vettriano’s work. A clear example of that is his painting “Night in the City”. In this piece of art we see a couple, who after having been out, find themselves in a room. As we can assume from the little red mask hanging on the window, they are coming from a party where other couples, or singles, were present. Was it a swinger party? It could have been. However, it is more likely that they already know each other. What captures the eyes of the viewer is the evident deformity of intentions each of them has: she has already taken her top off and unzipped her skirt, but realizing that he is not so keen, at least not yet, to join her, she ends up gazing at him almost with resentment. In fact, while she is beginning to undress for him, he lights a cigarette, hardly noticing her. Moreover, the way he is sitting suggests that he is not willing to do anything, but just enjoy smoking.
So much provoking the senses, so much stirring the emotions! Beauty. Above all – beauty. Maybe that is the word that frightens the art establishment so much. Art critics, curators and gallerist in national museums, ever so worried that a piece of art is not obscure and hermetic enough in the eyes of the spectator, in help of whom, of course, they stand there blathering and pretending to tell the viewers what is art and what is not. Who needs an art critic while watching a Monet, or who needs someone to decode that feeling of sheer nostalgia that one experiences in front of a Vettriano´s painting?
Maybe it is that kind of nostalgia he himself sometimes dives into while remembering the Saturdays of his youth, the time when women with bright red lipstick and heavy mascara, dressed elegantly for the descending and full of promises night out in the nearest ballroom, used to storm by the lust of strong-willed and tough men.
“Dance me to the end of time” is what Leonard Cohen sings, but time in sand clocks seeps ever so gently. So dance her till the end of sand.
– by Daniel De Luise