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.