Jack Vettriano admits he has lost the inspiration and motivation to paint new work

Jack Vettriano, the self-taught Scottish artist who became an international sensation, has revealed he has almost given up painting new work - as he had admitted he had struggled to find the motivation and inspiration since suffering a serious injury at home four years ago.

By Brian Ferguson
Monday, 23rd September 2019, 8:42 pm
Jack Vettriano revealed his struggles during a visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries, which will host a celebration of his early years as an artist in 2020.
Jack Vettriano revealed his struggles during a visit to Kirkcaldy Galleries, which will host a celebration of his early years as an artist in 2020.

The 67-year-old said he had lost his “mojo” since being forced to take an extended break from painting shortly after a hugely successfully retrospective of his work in Glasgow.

But Vettriano who famously learned to paint from copying the work of other artists, admitted the thought of retiring was “devastating.” He has not created any new work for a public exhibition since a major retrospective opened at Kelvingrove art gallery in 2013.

He discussed his problems at the official announcement of plans to display a host of previously-unseen paintings in his native Fife as part of an "early years" celebration of the artist, who is best known for his painting The Singing Butler.

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Vettriano will be displaying up to 60 of his earliest works at next year's exhibition in Kirkcaldy.

Vettriano described the prospect of the exhibition, which will feature up to 60 works spanning the period from the early 1970s to 2000, when he moved from Scotland to London, as "a lovely way to go out."

Vettriano recalled the impact his struggles with depression and an alcohol addiction in the wake of his accident at his former flat in Edinburgh’s New Town, which left him with a dislocated shoulder in his painting arm.

The artist, whose work has been bought by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Sir Alex Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane, said he had been struggling for motivation following the success of his Kelvingrove show, which broke all attendance records over its 23-week run.

Speaking at Kirkcaldy Galleries, which will host next year’s exhibition, Vettriano said: “I went through to Glasgow a couple of times when the exhibition was on. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. It was overwhelming.

Mad Dogs, which Vettriano revealed in 1991, will be one of the highlights of the exhibition.

“But after Kelvingrove, I had a terrible feeling of ‘what now?’ Don’t get me wrong, I love all the press and the attendance figures. But at the end of it I felt quite dislocated.

“After I had the accident, I feel into a real depression and started to drink during the day, which I had never done before.

“I had my arm in a sling after the accident and there was nothing I could do about it. I just can’t seem to get the mojo to work anymore.

“The last painting in the Kelvingrove exhibition was finished just two weeks before it opened. I’m just not motivated the way I used to be. I think that’s as a result of Kelvingrove. How can you repeat something like that?"

Critical Hour at 3am, which will also be on display in the exhibition, was first seen in 1992.

Born in Methil, in Fife, in 1951, Vettriano worked as a mining engineer and a bingo caller after leaving school at the age of 16. He only started to develop an interest in painting after being given a set of watercolours by a girlfriend for his 21st birthday.

He taught himself by studying the paintings at the Kirkcaldy gallery which will host next year’s exhibition and copying paintings from books and catalogues.

His paintings first came to prominence in 1988 when he had two works accepted for an exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. He went on to stage exhibitions in London, Hong Kong, Johannesburg and New York.

He added: “I’ve worked my a*** off. But something needs to happen to get me going again. “I used to be obsessed with painting.

"I used to sleep in my studio so I didn’t have to undress. I think it was Lucian Freud who said he would like to die painting.

"I don’t think artists retire. I can’t see myself retiring. I hope to back painting regularly again. If anyone said to me ‘you’re not going to paint again’ it would devastate me. I have a studio set up and a painting half-done. It is waiting for me to get back to it."

Vettriano said next year's exhibition would feature around a dozen unseen paintings, all painted under his birth name of Jack Hoggan, which were mostly copies of work by other artists.

He said: "I used to feel embarrassed about my early work. I wasn't embarrassed because they were copies, I was embarrassed because they were s****.

"I've realised now that nobody starts off by painting a masterpiece. Every artist has to go on a learning curve. I am no different.

"I actually wish people would encourage copying because it helped me to sit with a book open next to me."

You eventually think: "This is not your work, or it is your work, but it is not your idea."

"I'm really pleased that the style that I have is really identifiable. I want to give people an insight into the development of my work with the exhibition, but I also know I will never show work in this gallery again. I just think it is a lovely way to go out."

Fife Cultural Trust, which is curating the exhibition with Vettriano, is expecting worldwide interest in the show, which it said would "delight his legions of fans, giving them fresh insight into Vettriano’s early years."

The previously-unseen paintings are being kept under wraps until the exhibition's launch in September 2020. Other highlights of the exhibition, which will include work drawn from a number of private collections, will include a copy of a rejection letter from Edinburgh College of Art.

Heather Stuart, chief executive of Fife Cultural Trust, said: "Jack Vettriano has spoken often of his pride in his roots and how no matter where he has stayed in the world, he has remained a Fifer so it is fitting that he is returning to Fife with this exhibition which will show the artistic journey he started here.

“We are delighted to be holding this major event and honoured that he has chosen Kirkcaldy Galleries, where he had his early inspiration, as the place to unveil these works for the first time, an occasion which will be of interest worldwide.”