"I don't think my parents ever realized there were any other careers. I love them dearly but they lived in a limited world and their thoughts were limited. I don't think they ever thought any of their children could paint or even go on a foreign vacation. I think they brought me up the way they'd been brought up - to try and get through the system without going to prison. It was as simple as that. To be a man in that town [Fife] meant you had to drink 14 pints of lager before you went to the toilet. It was very much a place where a man was measured by how much he could drink not by how many books he'd read."
True to form, Vettriano left school at age 16 and began training as an apprentice mining engineer.
As a youth, he enjoyed drawing and sketching but his artistic endeavors took a more serious turn when on his twenty-first birthday a girlfriend bought him a set of watercolors. "She got me a box of paints and told me I should try and color those [drawings] in! Later I thought 'right, I'm going to be a real artist' and I went out and bought one of those boxes with six tubes of paint, three brushes, a palette to work on, and I taught myself. I went to the local library and there wasn't a lot [of art books] there - just a few impressionists and some of the Italian masters. I just decided that the only real way was to copy what was done. I started off with Monet's Poppy Fields."
After painting on his own for several years, he applied to Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art but was rejected. "In retrospect," he says, "that was a blessing in disguise because I think that unfortunately, but understandably, a lecturer is trying to turn a student into his own image - that's part of why he's a lecturer, because he wants to impart his knowledge into you. If I'd have gone I just wouldn't be where I am now."
A pivotal point came when, in his thirties, Vettriano decided to dedicate himself to his art and to contemplate the ideas behind it. "I remember sitting there, thinking a few things that always meant a lot to me were love and romance, and a kind of melancholic look at my own youth. I worked those things into a couple of paintings, put those into the Scottish Academy and both sold. It was like a shot of pure adrenaline."
Though frequently snubbed and dismissed by art critics, he is popular with legions of collectors and has become tremendously successful on a commercial scale. His work evokes an atmosphere reminiscent of the great noir movies and novels of our time. His paintings are set in bars and clubs, seasides, racetracks, ballrooms and bedrooms. They speak directly to the viewer in a language easy to feel and understand, hence his widespread appeal.
Jack Vettriano has studios in Scotland and in London and is exclusively represented by Portland Gallery, London.