Thursday, 16 October 2008
Vettriano and the body-bag
There is something almost perfectly contemptible about Jack Vettriano, but I don't do contempt, at least I don't do it well, and in any case why complain? You might as well complain about cravats or candy-floss, and I don't. However, there is a kind of betrayal there and I am trying to define of what. Mostly it's a romanticisation of cinema, a blanding out of problematic and interesting imagery into gloss. Take the couple above, on the ice. Annigoni meets Antonioni. It is period, statuesque, faceless and depthless. It is all association and no substance.
More movies. The gangster film begins to move towards genteel pre-pornography. Of which there is more. Everywhere we find curious blends of the received glamorous, the received romantic and brutal vacuity. If we, for a moment, imagined the scenes depicted in their original contexts - and there always are original contexts - they would be fleshed out and, even when cheap, carry about them a certain pathos. There is no pathos anywhere in Vettriano.
I don't say say he means the brutal vacuity. I do think the pornography is implicit. Another step here:
The pornography is not in the image but in the picture. What people do is not pornography. People having sex is not pornography. Even pictures of people having sex is not pornography. Pornography is to do with distance, facelessness and presentation. It is a brutal blanding out and I think that is latent in even the most harmless of Vettriano's work. I do not for a second mean to imply that Vettriano as a man is brutal. How would I know what he is? It is the pictures that nudge the way of brutality, and the more so the prettier they are.
And here is where I sense the betrayal. Because the scenes depicted - always nostalgic, always some time in the past, even if only in the eighties - have a certain second-hand life, a hand-me-down received kind of life. But the paintings zip them up and place them in pictorial body-bags. Nothing is moving in them, only a closed-down, hollow parody or betrayal of desire, a clumsy brutal emptiness without the redeeming feature of irony.
I'm struggling to work it out, I really am. And I don't mind the clumsiness. I never mind the clumsiness.