Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 19:17 UK

Vettriano on his 'hardest project'

By Mona McAlinden
BBC Scotland news website

Masthead by Jack Vettriano
Masthead is one of 10 paintings in the Tuiga series

Jack Vettriano is in the Yacht Club of Monaco, the playground of the rich and famous, but it seems the Fife-born artist still cannot escape the Scottish weather.

"It's teeming with rain here, so it's not all jet set," the 57-year-old says.

Vettriano is about to unveil a series of paintings he describes as the "most difficult project" he has taken on in his 20-year career.

The artist spent nine months in his studio producing Homage à Tuiga - 10 paintings inspired by the Clyde-built yacht, which is 100 years old on Saturday.

Tuiga was built in the west of Scotland village of Fairlie by William Fife, a world-famous yacht-builder whose clients included European royalty.

He was commissioned to build it by the Duke of Medinacelli, a friend of the Spanish king Alphonse XIII, who wanted a boat similar to the king's so that the two 15m vessels could race together.

Tuiga is now moored with her new owners, the yacht club, after being restored.

The club approached Vettriano last year about marking its centenary, after he produced a triptych depicting racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart's 1971 victory in Monaco.

Vettriano said it is fitting that a Scottish artist is paying homage to the vessel.

Jack Vettriano
Vettriano says it is a tense experience when he first shows people his work

"That was something that touched me very deeply. I think it's a lovely connection," he says.

The artist admits he would not normally work on such a big project, but the location was hard to turn down.

"I think it's sometimes good to move out of your comfort zone," he says.

"The opportunity for a working class laddie from Fife, to come down to Monaco and work in this environment, was just too irresistible."

However, Vettriano says he preferred the darker side of the nearby city of Nice - where he has a studio - than the "fairytale" of Monaco.

He says: "In Nice, there are a lot of criminals around, prostitutes and pimps - I like that kind of world.

"The underbelly in Nice is inspiring - anyone who looks at a book of my work will know that I like to paint woman and the whole shadowy world of pimps, hookers and dealers.

Sunshine and Champagne by Jack Vettriano
The series depicts a world of luxury on Tuiga and at the yacht club

"I like to paint frailties of human beings, the kind of conflict that exists within us."

The artist admits he still gets nervous when displaying his work to people for the first time.

"I think all creative people, perhaps me in particular, need approval," he says.

The paintings will only be seen by the club members on Thursday, but Vettriano says the "main event" will be in March, when they go on public display in Kirkcaldy.

The works are set in a world of luxury, romance and style in the 1950s, Vettriano's favourite era.

He says: "I was born in 1951 so my introduction to the opposite sex happened during that first 10 years.

"Those images will stay with me forever; the backcombed hair, the stockings, the high heels, the blue eye-shadow and red lipstick. It still excites me."

In Scotland I've got the baggage hanging over me of people saying he's a miner from Fife and all the arguments about the National Galleries
Jack Vettriano

But Vettriano said the actual logistics of working in the club and on Tuiga were tough.

"We had half-a-day to do a photo-shoot of my ideas for the paintings and I've never felt pressure like it," he says.

"For the ones of the girl on the yacht, the photographer and I had to do go out on another boat, and shout instructions to her.

"The water was a bit choppy - the whole thing was just terribly complex.

"I decided to do some below deck and we had to work in an incredibly confined space."

'Very sexy'

The artist is off to Milan next, after he spotted subject matter which he is keeping under wraps, except to say "it has to be painted".

He sees the city as a place where he can be judged on his work alone, not hampered by the "baggage" he has to shoulder in his home country.

Vettriano is referring in part to the controversy surrounding the National Galleries of Scotland's decision not to display the self-taught artist's work, which resulted in accusations of snobbery.

He says: "In Scotland I've got the baggage hanging over me of people saying 'he's a miner from Fife' and all the arguments about the National Galleries.

"In Italy they say he's the grandson of a peasant who left here 100 years ago, his work is very sexy and we love it."

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