Saturday, October 12, 2013

Looking at Artists: Jack Vettriano

The Weight
Jack Vettriano
Oil on canvas, 22"x20", 2009

This image popped up on one of my artist groups on Facebook today.  I was impressed.  It has a heavy, weighty, lonely feel to it.  It feels much like a Hopper painting, only it's better painted.  (I like Hopper, but if you really look at his works, they're not all that well painted.  He's more interested in the overall form than in light, color, or mark-making.)  The shirt here, for example, is real, not the idea of a shirt, like Hopper would have done.

I thought that I had never heard of this guy before seeing this image.  Wrong - I have seen some of his work before.  A quick Google search of images brought up one in particular:

The Singing Butler
Jack Vettriano
28"x36", 1992

I really liked this one.  It's intriguing - who are these people?  why are they dressed up and dancing on the beach?  why are servants holding umbrellas?  Additionally, the colors are rich, even in the muted areas of the storm clouds.  It's a visual treat from start to finish.

After looking at lots of his works, though, I don't care for most of them.  Yes, they are well done.  But these are not real people he's portraying: they're idealized figures playing roles.  Most of the roles are of the Rich Young Gatsby type.  Young men and women in formal wear, or women in formal lingerie, filled with ennui, sipping champagne, posing in joyless lovemaking, showing no emotion at all.  This leaves me cold.  I have no sympathy for idle rich, or the idea of idle rich, particularly in a world where the vast majority of people live in poverty and do what they can to scrape by.  Further, I'm much more interested in real people, with real emotion showing on their faces.  You won't find it here.

I had an interesting discussion with one of my gallery owners once.  (Many times, actually, but one in particular applies here.)  She was selecting figure drawings to show in her gallery.  She avoided the ones that were clearly a specific individual, particularly those that showed the face.  The reason?  Many art buyers project themselves into the art.  If the work is clearly a specific individual, they have a harder time identifying with it.  If the figure is more general (for example, if the face was turned away, or the hairstyle was more generic), then they have an easier time projecting themselves into the image.  Maybe that's one of the reasons that Vettriano's figures are so non-specific.

That doesn't affect how I work, though.  I still do specific people.  Real people have much more depth, complexity, and interesting issues than any stereotype.  And so, while I like some of Jack Vettriano's works, and I really like how he can paint, I can't connect with most of his paintings.  

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