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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Fears over Notting Hill Carnival reveal more about racism than reality

Statistically, the event is about as safe as Glastonbury.

Notting Hill carnival is terrifying. As soon as the sun sets, gangs emerge ready to prey on unsuspecting attendees with Red Stripe cans fashioned into knives. Children barter for drugs. Dancing is punctuated by ceremonial burials for those killed in between every dancehall tune. And that's just on the kids’ day.

Except, it's not true. Statistically, the event is about as safe as Glastonbury - if not safer, judging by the number of arrests. In 2015, Glasto was praised for its low arrest rate (75 arrests for a crowd of 135,000), but in the same year carnival had ten times the capacity and fewer than ten times the offences.

Despite these statistics, the police, MPs and newspapers seem desperate to paint carnival as a gang-run danger zone. The Met Police recently tweeted about a kilo of heroin seized in the run up to carnival, despite not even knowing whether the perpetrators were going to the event. MPs, such as former Kensington MP Victoria Borwick, are happy to fuel this fire, claiming to be concerned about the supposed “year on year increase in violence and physical harm to our police officers and members of the public”. Newspapers revel in publishing large spreads about the raids in the run up to the two days, despite lacking evidence they’re even connected. Break this down and it’s clear: this dislike towards carnival roots itself in racism - the presumption that a festival celebrating black, West Indian culture, frequented by a higher proportion of black British punters, must inevitably, be violent.

I have been attending carnival since the age of six, when my parents moved to the area (90s gentrification alert). I used to sell Ribena for a markup on my street, took part in the float my primary school ran and every year witnessed the incredible recontextualisation of the area. Gone is the whitewashing for a moment: the streets and houses become splattered in neon paint, jerk chicken boxes and Red Stripe cans. It is one of the best things to happen to the area, and its vast cultural value exceeds the bougie cafes and boutique clothing stalls that span the area.

And yet, every year, I have to dodge questions from relatives and friends about how dangerous it supposedly is. “Ooh, Notting Hill carnival. Bit scary, isn't it? Lots of angry youth who can get quite violent I hear. Didn't someone get stabbed last year?” Perhaps a viable question to ask anyone going to a crowded event. Except, why weren’t they asking me this when I flew to Amsterdam this year to go to a music festival?

There's another side of critiquing carnival that is equally infuriating, and that's that the fact that the event in some ways stands as a consolation prize to the original tenants of the area. In the middle of the 20th Century, Notting Hill was far from the Russian oligarch haven it is today. It was the Windrush Era, when black immigrants began arriving from the Caribbean. They came not out of some overwhelming desire to be freezing for 11 months, but because Britain was struggling after the Second World War, and desperately needed a labour force. Despite the demand, the West Indians were met with hostility and racism, forced to live in the worst areas of London. One of those places was Notting Hill.

Imagine, then, the audacity of shaming carnival. Imagine being forced by racism into a rundown neighbourhood, turning it into something fashionable, and then being priced out by middle-class white people. Imagine on top of that, having your legacy celebration degraded under the guise of safety concerns.

This year will feel different. It will be the first year ever under a Labour MP. It will also come two months and a half months after the Grenfell fire, where many of its residents and victims will have taken part in the event. Whilst there’s something defiant in these parades, it will be hard for the collective joy not to be marred by a knowledge that somewhere in this borough, bodies are being buried because of our council.

We need to see carnival for what it is: a celebration of a culture struggling to stay afloat in the area. Kensington continues to edge out those who may not be living in £2.5m homes - whether it’s with rising house prices, creating anxiety around an event or even putting lives at risk due to sheer disregard and greed. If you’re worried about going, I would avoid all large, crowded events in general, because there’s no use believing the vacuous and racist hype. Beyond getting splattered with paint and dancing too enthusiastically to Bashment, there’s nothing to fear.