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

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.