“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.” - Raymond Chandler
There is a smell of nicotine and bourbon, of gin joints walked into by long lost lovers, of cordite and rainy nights in downtown somewhere or other. It is the romance of history, the myth of another time. When men were men and women, as they always have, packed both brains and beauty and knew how to use a smile, a wiggle, a show of leg. It is the stuff of Chandler, of Philip Marlowe as played by Bogart or Mitchum, of Hollywood in the days of pioneering legends. It is sex in smart suits. Lust in smoky bars. Violence in shady streets. It is the danger inherent in small talk and big ideas. It is a fantasy re-written large and blessed. It is the art of Italian sounding, Scot born, Jack Hoggan who the world now knows as Vettriano and who the art world vilify, some do anyway, whilst the sensible ones recognise a talent that arrived in sultry, stylistic hues.
The older I get the less I like the modern world. Not the people co-habiting this beautiful planet, not the towns, cities, forests and urban sprawl but the manner in which the machine we have created runs out lives at it ruins our living. From my generations ("Hope I die before I get Old") perspective, having arrived the largest collective progeny ever seen following the Second World War, following the brilliant rebellion of Fifties beats and Rock and Roll, following the Mods and Hippies who rode scooters, took off their clothes, screwed them selves rigid having taken mind bending drugs, following the illusion of punk with its nihilistic views we arrive now at a time where God is gone replaced by a newer, if possible, meaner deity, Lord Avarice. Here in this saccharine age where money and bling mean more than love and community I have re-fallen in love with a time, the look of anyway if not the reality, that held romance at its heart and style as its watchword. And sex, contrary to my lots belief we invented both it and drugs, was steamy and passionate.
“She lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air.” Raymond Chandler
Jack Hoggan was born on the 17th November 1951. It was Scotland and the rough edge of living was the manner in which the infant boy grew up. His father, a miner, his mother, the traditional housewife and his brother with whom he shared a bed in a tiny miners cottage. When he hit the age of ten Jack was sent out delivering papers the wages for which went toward the family upkeep. If the fifties had influence on him perhaps it came via the old black and white movies they played on TV. That is if the family could afford such a thing. At age fifteen, Jack, who already was showing signs of a prodigious talent, left school and went out to work. His first job was as a mining engineer, a fine trade, a wholesome profession but sometimes dreams simply wont fade into the mundane average of the everyday.
The collieries that ran around the Hoggan household like Indian's around a covered wagon were omnipresent and unglamorous. The only glamour to be found was in the town's two ballrooms which attracted young females who came in high heels and stockings, faces rouged with lips glossed in violent red. The town was Fife. The outlook uncertain. Some dreams just nag then grow until the time comes when it is a case of either put-up or shut up. Jack did the former.
Swapping his work suits for those of an Edwardian Dandy, a Lowlife Fop, Jack began reinventing himself the better to pursue those jagged dreams. He had been studying art books for years, drawing and painting, borrowing other artists ideas, producing work that was derivative yet nonetheless promising. He had a girlfriend to thank for that for it was she who first gave him a watercolour set. Dali and Picasso played their part albeit unknowingly and at a great distance.
His first commercial success came when Jack, Hoggan substituted by mothers maiden name of Vettriano, exhibited his work in far flung Bahrain where he was working as a management consultant. It was a break - of sorts. In 1981, having married, he and his wife moved back to Scotland. It was at this point that the outgoing if not gregarious man became introspective and withdrawn. It was a phase that would loose him friends and his marriage.
Still nervous about solo exhibitions, Jack Vettriano declined the offer to show his work at Edinburgh's Solstice Gallery preferring to act in tandem with fellow artist Joan Renton. It was now 1991. The next year, as a fresh face entered number ten dragging careworn policies in both drab and grey, so Jack produced his first major work of art and his first commercial success.
“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.” Raymond Chandler
“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” - Raymond Chandler
These images, the ones that I select as I like them better, the ones set sometime in the forties as Glen Miller's band was piping out 'I'm in the Mood," as Lauren Bacall was telling us to put our lips together and blow, are not the only thread string to Jack Vettriano's bow as that most famous of his works reveals. 'The Singing Butler' has interest and intrigue but also a great sense of humour. The latter being the one thing so often lacking in modern art and the one thing Mister Vettriano has in spades.
But it is those mobster images, the ones drip dried in a former eras mythological past, that flip that switch that turn on my lights. Moody, mean, sensual and dark. They throb with a pent up sexuality which pretends that men, hard, stubborn, ruthless but in truth the weaker sex, are in control. They are not. It is patently obvious they never have been. The so called fairer sex hold all the aces and they play a cool hand of poker.
“The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.” Raymond Chandler
It is that mystique, that power held in abeyance, that ultimate control ragged with danger that entrances me. The way the men have need to appear to be in control but in fact are being controlled. It is a game played at high stakes.
The grace of the females depicted is feline but not predatory. It is a mating ritual similar to that seen on the Serengeti where the lion pursues the lioness persuading her that she wants him. He puffs up his chest, shakes his majestic mane, settles he down then mounts her his wicked way to have. No sooner has he done what needs doing, released his seed, then he backs away gingerly fully aware that she, should she so desire it, could slaughter him.
It is the tango danced on shimmering floors beneath a glitter ball spinning reflecting gaudy lights that shape shadows that slip and slide across walls and tables. A dance as taut with sexual tension as the mating of lions. It is incandescent with restrained desire, a passion eager the tear free of that restraint, to pull the clothes of each participant in a frenzied heat of wild abandon. It never happens but the dance goes on.
|“I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.”|
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.