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Only the Deepest Red - A Recollection

I am writing my first book, the subject of which centres around recollections of my friendship and work with Scottish/Italian painter  Jack Vettriano. Last year during the last weeks of the summer I visited Jack at his studio and home in Nice, travelling there from Florence by train, via Milano, and eventually reaching the long stretch of railway line along the Mediterranean coastline to the border and France. This coastal journey is one I have always enjoyed, the Cote d'Azur isn't called the Cote d'Azur for nothing, I always thought to myself breathing in one blue bay after another, each reaching out to the horizon a little more each time. Jack was about to turn 72 and we hadn't seen each other for almost 10 years. This was his first trip to his European home since before the lockdown, which he had spent at home in Edinburgh, so I can only imagine the way his heart must've lifted as he emerged from the plane, eyes blinking into that Mediterranean light again. I arrived in the early evening of that late summer's day and found myself standing outside the address he had written to me, 'VETTRIANO' engraved onto a brass plate in blocked letters next to the little smooth rounded brass button I had just pressed. The last time I saw Jack in Nice was in 2012 when he lived in a large apartment on the 3rd floor of an art deco building on the Promenade des Anglais, neighbouring with Le Negresco Hotel. It was an elegant light-filled place with a little balcony and a view out over the esplanade and the sea where the air blew in the distant hum of passing planes. The studio was full of space and light giving the perfect conditions for painting, a large easel positioned by the tall windows, a wooden palette sitting beside it covered in half squeezed out tubes of oil paints in all the different colours alongside a scattered array of separated and never to be paired again tops, smoked cigarette stubs and ash. He told me almost proudly that sometimes he just took the paint directly from the tubes with his brush, which is what I was always told not to do. But Jack had his own rules, he was self taught and never had the disciplines of art school and neither did he need or care for them.

I joyfully photographed the details, art deco furniture perfectly placed, a needleless gramophone, sculptings and vases on marble reflecting in beautiful large clean mirrors. The way the light moved between art deco and sea was heaven to me and my lens. I would've liked to have seen that place again but Jack had moved to a smaller apartment just around the corner a few years before, because I just didn't need 4 bedrooms, he told me. So, there I was standing in front of a different door, outside another art deco building in Nice, holding a heavy vintage case in one hand and a camera bag in the other when the door opened to reveal Jack smiling, eyes smiling in the warm evening air. His hair, all silver now, was still thick and curly like before, and partly held back with a kirby grip on one side to keep it from his face. It was ten years since I last saw him and his face was older of course but his eyes glistened as they always had when he was touched by something, as though a painting was coming to life in his mind right at that moment, colours moving in his mind. Jack has always been, above all else, a visual person on a search for what he describes as visual pleasure. Nice is a town which suits him well in that case, pristine art deco buildings stretching out in every direction, the aesthetics of the designer vintage stores for all his vintage needs and all the light and colour you could ever ask for, those deep blues and reds, the pale green shutters and light walls. That evening as we walked down Rue de France towards his local Italian, Jack wearing 1950's white pointed winklepicker shoes with a broken white lace on one shoe that he could only lace up halfway, I was reminded of the poetry and ease that I had felt when I first worked with Jack in London. Back then we would walk together along his Knightsbridge streets visiting his local haunts, when he was at the height of his fame and I was a young photographer playing with film. I would soak it all inside collecting memories, in my mind and on film, also in the shape of matchboxes, souvenirs from the restaurants that we dined in. With each step familiar pieces rose up to travel beside us in the air as we reminisced on that warm late summer's evening on the Cote d'Azur, perhaps a new chapter in the air. 

Only the Deepest Red, tells of a journey which begins in a bookstore in Scotland then moves to London, to France, back to London then France again, then to Italy where Jack had begun to consider his roots. Talks were exchanged of discovering the little Italian town on the hill where his Grandfather had left as a young man to start a new life on the east coast of Scotland where Jack would eventually be born. I will be working on these recollections during this coming year with an aim to have a complete collection in 2025.


May 08

dear grace,

congrats for your so special work which I so admire,founding out some new talents you have!

thank you so much for sending it to me!

love the special green of the venisons water… you made it so lively in the video that I immediately

want to go there again!

gratefull following your further work,

love tamara

Grace Lambert-Phillips
Grace Lambert-Phillips
May 08
Replying to

Thank you beautiful Tamara! It’s always so lovely to receive such encouraging words which I appreciate very much, especially from you! Hope to see you soon, perhaps in Venice! ❤️❤️



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