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Jack Vettriano on Forain


Forain was best known through reproductions of his work because he was principally a cartoonist - ordinary people were more likely to know his work through newspapers and book illustrations than through seeing original paintings. As member of the present-day public I'm in a very similar position - I've only ever seen one of your paintings in the flesh, but whenever I visit a card shop there they all are.

The funny thing about the prints was I was first approached in 1990 to reproduce my work but I held out until 1995 because I had this view that somehow it would tarnish the original work. And then Tom Hewlett (from the Portland Gallery) and I had a meeting with the Art Group and they said, "Look, we want to do four images, two of which were Butler and Mad Dogs with a sales forecast of, I think, £4,000 a year, and I thought, "That's a nice wee earner". And I got a wee bit more than that the first year, and then it just built ever since, and it's now very, very strong.

The point I always make about reproductions of my work is that if nobody wanted them they wouldn't exist. People say, "Christ, your works everywhere!" and I think, wait a minute, I'm not taking it to the shops and saying, "Look, you wouldn't sell these for me would ya? I need the money badly!" And now that there is such a following of people who anticipate a new print coming out, I'm not now going to say "I've had enough of that world." It's very important to a lot of people - why shouldn’t they have a reproduction for a tenner? Why do they have to have twenty grand to buy an original? I wonder too sometimes what, if artists like Forain and Degas and Monet and Manet had the kind of access I have to the print world, what would they have done? And I fancy they would have gone down the same route.

When my partner's father died recently, quite a number of the cards that we received were by you. It immediately made think what a responsibility it must be to provide images that allow people to say the things that they probably can't or don’t know how to say to each other. How aware of that are you? There's one image in particular that I remember - "In Thoughts of You" of a woman sitting alone looking out through a window.

I'm very, very touched by the fact that they're used in that way - by helping to convey a message. Couples have said that they met talking about me, and got to know more about each other by sending my cards. But knowing this neither pushes my work in one direction painting or another. There's a funny story here too. One time I was being interviewed on stage and this girl said, "Do you know that your cards are used to transmit messages? My friend dumped her boyfriend by sending one of your cards!" and I said, "which one?" and she said, "The Drifter" - like, "Bugger off - just be like him and just get your case packed and off you go" which I thought was very amusing. (laughs).

One of the main consequences of the prints is that I get probably half a dozen letters every week, which I think is phenomenal for an artist. I've had letters from servicemen, and guys in prison saying anything from, "You're work's helping me" to "I'd love to paint like you", but I just think "What do you do with this stuff?" I have a rule that I just don't enter into any dialogue with anybody and I'm reminded of what Leonard Cohen said, when he talked about fan mail - that you can't immediately start up a relationship with somebody who's not organically in your life. It's just a recipe for disaster. I mean there was one guy in prison who wanted me to write back to him. I also get letters from women saying "You obviously love Joni Mitchell, I do too, and I came through that period, and I'm in London next week ...." I think "Don't think badly of me please, but I just don't think it's wise. I just don't really want to go down that road".

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