Jack Vettriano,
Lovers & Other Strangers
(Pavilion, 2000)

I first came across Jack Vettriano's work as I suspect many people come across it -- whilst browsing in a card shop. The vibrant colours drew my eye, and I picked up one called "Dance Me to the End of Love." The blurb on the back told me the artist was self-taught, Scottish and an ex-miner. Intrigued, every time I went into the shop after that I'd look to see if there were any new ones. I liked the way they generally told half a story, or a joke, sometimes, and I wanted to learn a little more about the man holding the brush.

Anthony Quinn clearly has a fondness for his subject, and includes some interesting background material here covering Vettriano's life. It's interesting that the boy who grew into manhood in and around the nightclubs of Kircaldy would later find himself painting images that are straight out of 1950s film noir -- some of them a little more risque than the cardshop display would lead you to believe, by the way.

Vettriano has had a mixed press. He has a number of admirers, but others have accused him of producing little more than pornography. He finds this grossly unfair, and I think he has a point. "I choose to paint the moments before and after sex," he says, "not the act itself," and that's true enough. Most of his pictures describe a kind of sexual tension, leaving you to make up the rest of the story for yourself. What happens when the woman meets the chap who's waiting for her at the top of the stairs at Angel tube station, for example? What is the couple in "Bad Boy Blues" talking about? Are they arguing? The woman in "The Party's Over" is wearing a wedding band. Is the man pushing her back against the table her husband? Her husband's best friend? A stranger? We don't know.

The first line of the introduction to the book, from Tim Rice, sums it up beautifully: "Jack Vettriano has the ability to make you feel nostalgic for things you never actually experienced in the first place." Why not dip in and borrow some memories of your own?

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 6 September 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.