Yesterday’s Dreams by Jack Vettriano
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Jack Vettriano: standing in the shadows of love

Scotland’s favourite painter on the art of heartbreak.

Yesterday’s Dreams was painted in 1994. The setting is the studio that I kept on the second floor of a townhouse that I had at the time in Edinburgh, in Lynedoch Place, not five minutes’ walk from the First Minister’s official residence, Bute House.

The title and inspiration for the painting come from a song by Lamont Dozier and the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, who, as a trio, arranged and produced many songs that helped define the Motown sound in the 1960s and provided the soundtrack to my adolescence. I first heard the song after it was released in 1968, when I was a 17-year-old with a girlfriend who was 19. And yes, she turned the boy into a man in every way. But she moved on to another trainee lover and left me totally broken-hearted.

I retired to my bedroom for three months, my solitude interrupted only by having to go to work, and listened to “Yesterday’s Dreams” endlessly and wrote poetry – nothing for Robert Burns or Leonard Cohen to worry about but cathartic at the time, for me. I was just a young guy who couldn’t cope with a broken heart and this song captured the terrible pain that only love can inflict.

Yesterday’s dreams today are all sorrow
Just like your love, girl, fading away . . .
Yesterday’s love won’t last till tomorrow
I know you’re leaving, but what can I say? . . .
Yesterday’s dreams though gone and behind us
They’re lonely reminders of plans that we made.

When I emerged from my self-imposed exile, I stopped listening to the song to prove to myself that I’d moved on, and didn’t rediscover it until 26 years later when I came across a CD of The Four Tops Greatest Hits. I bought it and immediately played the track and it took me right back to me as a tragic 17-year-old. I knew I had a painting to do and I didn’t want it to be a self-portrait, so I contacted a friend, told her my story and Yesterday’s Dreams is the result.

For some reason I have always been drawn to people, particularly women, whose hearts have been broken – occasionally by me. I think this feeds in to my melancholic tendencies, and definitely influences my choice of music. In Yesterday’s Dreams, I wanted to capture an atmosphere of melan­choly and longing, so I kept the scene simple: a woman dressed in black, holding a pair of gloves and a cigarette; she’s turned away from the viewer and is looking out of my studio window. Mundane though this may seem, I’d never painted net curtains before, but I wanted to see if I could do it because they added something in the partial veiling of her and the view beyond. When I look at the painting now, it makes me nostalgic about my time in Lynedoch Place and the view out of my window, which is Randolph Cliff, the most beautiful row of Georgian houses, opposite my studio.

I like to create atmosphere and here I wanted to capture the woman’s sadness that her lover has left her and is not coming back. There is a period of grieving after the loss of love and so I dressed my character in black and put her in a grey background to give the painting an almost funereal setting. The clothes were all from charity shops; I pick things up when I see them and they find their way into paintings at a later date. I gave her a cigarette as I do enjoy watching a woman smoking – I guess I’m in the minority there, but I just do.

I planned the painting carefully. I wanted it to be very simple, with a restricted palette of colours – almost monochromatic, with the tones of the Edinburgh sky blending with the pale grey stone of the houses opposite. I am proud of this painting and I was so pleased when it was selected for inclusion in my 20-year retrospective at Kelvingrove Art Gallery. I hope that visitors to the exhibition were moved by it in some way.

www.jackvettriano.com

This article first appeared in the 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

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Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a force at least united in name.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will remain a story.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.