Who Says It’s Art?

singing_butler                                                       
In the media, artists are often depicted as bourgeois – the sons and daughters of the elite whose well-connected parents exhibit their siblings’ paintings in plush art galleries around the world.In some respects this is true.

However, there are also other artists who have risen through the ranks thanks to their artistic skill, fate and a little opportunity. One such artist is Jack Vettriano.

He was born in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland on November 17 1951 to Italian parents. His birth name is Jack Hoggan and he is the grandson of Peter Vettriano who came to Scotland from Italy in 1906.

He grew up in the industrial seaside town of Methil, Fife  with his mother and father and older brother, in a spartan miner’s cottage, sharing a bed with his brother and wearing handed down clothes. From the age of 10, his father sent him out delivering papers and milk, cleaning windows, picking potatoes, any job that could earn money. His father took half his earnings.

He left school at 16 and later became an apprentice mining engineer. He did not take up painting as a hobby until the 1970s, when a girlfriend bought him a set of watercolours  for his 21st birthday.His earliest paintings, under his birth name “Jack Hoggan”, were copies or pastiches of impressionist paintings.His first painting was a copy of Monet’s  Poppy Fields.Much of his influence came from studying paintings at the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery. In 1984, Vettriano first submitted his work to the Shell-sponsored art exhibition in the museum.

In 1987, at 36, Vettriano left his wife of eight years, Gail, and stepdaughter, and his job in educational research, and moved to Edinburgh. There, he adopted his mother’s maiden name, gave away his suits to a neighbour and started dressing as an Edwardian dandy. He applied to study Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh, but his portfolio was rejected.

In 1989, he submitted two paintings to the Royal Scottish Academy’s annual exhibition; both were accepted and sold on the first day. The following year, an equally enthusiastic reaction greeted the three paintings, which he entered for the prestigious Summer Exhibition at London’s Royal Academy and his new life as an artist began from that point on.

In 1991 his painting ‘ The Singing Butler’ was sold for £3,000. It was turned down by the Royal Academy of London and the Art Establishment, who deemed the painting not good enough to show! However, in 2004 the painting sold for £744,500. It not only broke the record for the highest amount ever paid for a Jack Vettriano original painting but also smashed the record for the highest bid ever made for a painting at a Scottish auction, the previous record being for just over £500,000 for a Herring painting. In addition to the record-breaking painting sales Jack Vettriano has also received personal recognition through the Queen’s honours list.

In September 2003 Jack Vettriano received an OBE for his services to the art world and on behalf of his charitable work.He has also received an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews.His easel paintings cost between $48,000 and $195,000 new, but he is thought to make £500,000 a year in print royalties.

Each year a new set of limited edition prints are published, and his most popular work, The Singing Butler, sells more posters and postcards than any other artist in the UK.

Of course, fame does not come without criticism. The Daily telegraph described him as the Jeffrey archer  of the art world, a purveyor of  badly conceived soft porn and a painter of “dim erotica. Vanity Fair said he paints brainless erotica.Sandy Moffat, head of drawing and painting at Glasgow School of Art said he couldn’t paint, just coloured in. The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones described Vettriano’s paintings as a group as brainless” and said Vettriano  was not even an artist.

Whatever opinion anybody holds of Jack Vettriano, the general public cannot be ignored and his rise to fame speaks for itself. Even struggling writers such as I have also used his paintings as a subject of  one of his stories (Soul Searching.)

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