W. Gordon Smith, editor,
Fallen Angels,
paintings by Jack Vettriano
(Trafalgar Square, 1995; Pavilion, 1999)

The idea behind this book was to bring together a variety of Scots -- actors, playwrights, poets, novelists -- who would contribute pieces of work inspired by the art of their compatriot, Jack Vettriano.

If you've never seen any of Jack Vettriano's paintings I would describe them as kind of film-noir snapshots: moments in time that tell a story, or half a story, leaving you to fill in the gaps. They are rich in colour, full of light and shade, and always interesting. He has a distinctive style that appeals to me, and I'm very pleased with the selection of paintings reproduced in the book. Not all of the textual pieces selected by the editor move me in quite the same way, though.

Some texts are strongly related to the paintings to which they refer -- Carl McDougall's "The Content of My Pockets," for example, and A.L. Kennedy's piece on "The Administration of Justice." Others are used as jumping points for descriptive narrative, such as Alan Taylor's "The Same Old Game."

There are a few where I can't see the relationship at all. Norman McCaig's "Power Dive" and both of Bernard McLaverty's pieces fall into that category, along with the pieces provided by the editor himself. But maybe I'm not looking hard enough.

For me, the best contributions are from playwright Sue Glover. There's a wonderful rhythm to her poem "Maria Magdalena" and a vivid depiction of a pimp who'll not harm a hair of her head in her second piece, "Someone to Watch Over Me." I also like Stewart Conn's "Strangers in the Night," an unnervingly honest poem about the viewer's guilty pleasure at being drawn into Vettriano's sensual world.

There are some contributors I was pleasantly surprised to see included -- such as Benny Gallagher of Gallagher and Lyle, Russell Hunter (Lonely to Edward Woodward's Callan), and Vettriano himself -- and they all provide entertaining pieces. The extracts from an 18th-century directory of Edinburgh brothels are fun, too. Of the older works, Burns' "Ae Fond Kiss" works very well, but Stevenson's poem "To You May Snow and Roses" placed against a self-portrait of the artist, jars a little for me.

On the whole I'd say that this seems to be one of those occastions where the original idea was better than the end result in many respects. I'm not sure but that's possibly because Vettriano's art speaks loudly enough for itself, making the rest somewhat superfluous. On the other hand, it's good to be able to dip into other works and mindsets, and I'm most grateful for the introduction to Glover and Conn.

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 12 April 2003

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