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Jack Vettriano on Forain

Working methods

Do you ever paint people from life?

No! No - I can't do it - I'm being quite honest about that. I could do it - but I don't see any point in putting myself through hell. I did it in the early days and I suffered for it. You know, because I'm self-taught, I've got no real confidence. By that I mean I'm confident enough to paint for a television camera, and I've painted for an audience as well, just to let them see how I would do it. But the thought of actually painting a model just fills me with horror because I wouldn't get anything done.

When I'm on my own with my favourite CD playing, I can work like hell! Generally the only time I get up is to go to the toilet or make another cup of coffee. But if you've got a model there, you know, you're fretting about how she’s feeling, and what's she thinking, and what's she thinking about what I'm thinking. I also don't find it easy to sit in silence with somebody, and I really don't want to talk when I'm painting. I mean I might start to hum a little tune or something, or maybe take a phone-call, but other than that I prefer the solitude. As far working with models goes I like to get them in and get them out - I regard it strictly as business. Of course I might say, "Right, that's the session finished - now can I see you for dinner tonight" but that's a different story altogether. But in here - in the studio - I'm very business-like and very accommodating. I even don't like models changing in front of me - I like them to go and get changed in private and then come in so that I can say "Oh, yeah, that looks great". (laughs)

This room is rather magical because it's a mixture of being a studio ....

And a home ....

.... but it also feels like a dressing-up room - a place for fantasies to unfold. You could lounge on the couch like a princess, or you could sit nervously like an office girl waiting for an interview ....

Well, the one thing I don't do is paint models who think they're models, I just paint ordinary girls - I mean I've painted girls that I've seen in shops and introduced myself to them. But it's never people who are professional models. I just like ordinary people. And they'll say to me, "But you know, I've never posed before!" and I'll say, "Well, it's like dressing up. That's all it is. And there are no lines - you don't have to learn any dialogue. You just come and try to relax." And with some it's easier than with others and I get nervous about it as well. But I'm glad you feel that about the room. It's a bit dark just now and the blinds are down, but on a summer's day you get the sun up until about 9.00 o'clock in the morning and then it's great after that because there's no direct sunlight. You can get the blinds right up and you hear the buzz of the traffic and it makes you feel part of the world - it's a great place to work.

I met a wee girl last night who said "Why don't you paint blonds?" and she was very pretty .... and I said that it's unlikely that I would want to paint somebody aged less than thirty. I'm trying not to be ageist here, it's just that I would rather paint an older woman who knows a bit about life and the world, because she'll understand what it is I'm trying to convey. If I say to a younger, more innocent model, "I want you in a bra and pants and I'm going to tie ribbon round your wrists and take a photograph of you from behind", she’s going to be out that studio door in five minutes! Whereas an older woman is likely to have experienced at least something along these lines. So I just have a notion that models have got to be a bit older than thirty, but a bit younger than me. (laughs)

And is this always the interior that features in your paintings? Or do you work elsewhere - perhaps when you're back in Scotland?

No, the bulk of my painting is done here. In Edinburgh I had a big townhouse and it was like the set from Peter Greenaway's film "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" - every room was a different colour - it was a house just made for seduction and art! I've painted in Scotland but I try not to, because I'm supposed to be going up there for a wee break.

When I met you for the first time, I thought that you would be wearing an old suit with stiff collar and tie more like the characters in your paintings. In a sense it's much more reassuring to see that you're not.

I did go through that a bit, but then just got tired of it. In the early days when I decided to be a painter and I had some success, I kind of thought, "Well, how should a painter look?" and for somebody who'd always had to work for somebody else I always had to look the part, and suddenly I thought, "I'm going to let my hair grow, I'm not to shave, and I’m going to buy old de-mob suits." But as you get older you just become more interested in other things and a fashion-statement isn't top of your list in the morning when you get up.

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