There is a story in the Sunday Times magazine that you really owe it to yourself, your family members, and anyone else in earshot to experience via dramatic reading aloud. It concerns the British artist Andrew Vicari, the "Rembrandt of Riyadh," a fellow who claims to be the highest paid painter in the world. He's the Saudi court painter, and he is incredible. Just perhaps not in the way he intends.
Vicari puts his comparative anonymity, and miserable prices, in the West down to a mixture of envy and unfashionability. He is currently planning a triumphant homecoming; there will be a "retrospective" in February, he says (though it will be at the London society jewelers Boucheron rather than an art gallery). "I am planning to return like Christ in the temple, turning over the tables, turning over this conceptualism! This Damien Hirst, with his stuffed sharks, is just an ornithologist!"
You mean a taxidermist?
"Yes, that's it, a taxidermist."
Most of Vicari's work includes a signature swirl or vortex, like a dying sun, which he calls "a vigonade," a word he made up during one long evening at a bar called Chez Vigon in Nice. What does "the vigonade" signify?
"People say it is an enigma, but it is much more mysterious than that."
More mysterious than an enigma?
Vicari's grandfather was a circus owner, and you can sense some of that theatrical lugubriousness in him. He says he is obsessed with comedy, and with death. This started early. "My father," he says, "saw it and arranged for me to go to the local slaughterhouse in Wales, and I helped to kill 200 sheep. I was about 16, 17." He recalls the carnage, shakes his head. "I didn't do the pigs because the squeals were unbearable. Just the sheep. It's all in the work. People say where does the power in my work come from? And I say three things. Menace, menace, and menace."
But he often paints peasant girls with bunches of flowers?
What about his "Virgin and Gypsy" series?
His soulful-looking harlequins?
"Menace. It's in me. As they said of Michelangelo: Sweet and terrible."