He has also been collaborating with singer Sam Smith on a series of paintings.
But an earlier success was another series of linked-narrative paintings.
JOHN: Barber shops. You went round barber shops and created a series of paintings… Why?
VINCE: I was at a motor bike show and there was a barber shop there. I was there to research the bike guys, but I saw this barber shop where there were three or four guys with a fantastic look – tattoos and all the rest – and they had this 1920s feel about them. So, even though I was there to photograph motor bike guys, I asked if I could photograph the barbers too and then I started painting them and the paintings went down really well on Instagram – people were really excited by them – so then I went to see those guys in their shop in East London and asked: “Are there more guys like you?”
And they said: “Yeah.”
This is a massive community of really creative, interesting people.
So I started to think more about and visit these barber shops. And these guys are doing quite well, have a fair bit of money but, I thought: They can’t be making this money from just cutting hair! So I started thinking: There must be other things going on. And I came up with ideas of crime behind the scenes.
Guys just cutting hair is not necessarily THAT interesting but, once you imagine these guys are doing something else… When you get your hair cut, you end up telling the barber everything, so maybe they are hearing about all sorts of stuff…?
JOHN: And this barber shop series was a turning point for you?
VINCE: Yes. I had been selling art for a long time, but…
JOHN: Selling it where?
VINCE: Just around. There are lots of art fairs around London. Manchester and places. You hire a space, a little booth. I had a booth. You put your paintings up and people walk past turning their noses up, because people love abstract art and pretty colours. They see Renaissance Art type stuff and they think: Oh! Old-fashioned rubbish!…
I thought I would never get anywhere but, when I started painting the barbers, that’s when it started resonating with people and I started to get a lot more interest. That was about two-and-a-half years ago.
That was when I could quit working at my full-time other job. So I have been a full-time artist for about two years.
But, really, I think another major turning point was just before I did the barbers stuff, when I studied in Rome for a couple of weeks with one of my art mentors, an American artist called Sean Cheetham, and he gave me the feeling I could do something. That gave me self-belief, but I just kept chipping away. That is the thing; you have to keep chipping away.
JOHN: You’re not interested in abstract art – random triangles, Picasso and all that?
VINCE: No, I’m not. I appreciate that people like abstraction, but…
JOHN: The Renaissance is seriously complicated, detailed stuff.
VINCE: Well, I’m a realistic painter, a representational artist.
JOHN: That’s more difficult than painting triangles.
VINCE: Yes but, at the end of the day, that is just ‘craft’. The ‘art’ is the ‘idea’. There are tons of people who can paint way better than me and representational ‘craft’ will get you so far, but only so far. It is actually the ‘idea’ that people buy and that is where the art really exists.
Even the old masters would maybe paint face and hands and have students filling in everything else… but they had come up with the original ideas, the composition.
Love him or hate him, Damien Hirst comes up with the ideas, the marketing, the brand and he has other people do the work. But why should he do the work? Someone else can repeat what he tells them – the spacing of his dots, the colours that are used, any number of different things. People say: Oh, my 5-year-old could do that… Yeah, but your 5-year-old DIDN’T do it. And YOU didn’t do it. HE did it and HE was successful.
There is so much more to it than just producing a piece of art that’s impressive. There are so many people who are brilliant at painting dogs or children or whatever else. But it’s only the people who own the dog or own the child who want to buy their painting. Because there is no real story; the idea is not interesting enough; it’s just a piece of craft work.
JOHN: Painting is dead, isn’t it? You do reference photographs and you can do creative changes with Photoshop and you can sell prints of your work successfully – which you do. Why bother actually painting at all?
VINCE: Prints of paintings are just not the same. They flatten everything out; there’s only a certain dynamic range you can do with a printer, so a lot of subtleties in the darks and the blacks and the shadows will just get turned to black by a printer. You won’t see all those different subtleties.
Oil paintings are painted in layers and, because light goes through all these different layers of paint and reflects back colours, it has a very different feel when you see an oil painting in real life compared to a print of that oil painting.
One of the big things about my art is it’s expensive. The people buying it like the art, but also they know that there is only one of these. When you buy a Lamborghini, ten people down the road could have the same car as you. You have spent £250,000 on a car and you don’t have the only one. Whereas, when you buy an original oil painting which has had many hours of thought and work go into it, it’s a completely different investment.
People are emotionally attached to it. People really get quite emotional about my paintings, which is the greatest thing ever for me; it’s the biggest rush; I get goosebumps when I think about it. When they tell me how much the painting I have created means to them… well, a print of the painting will never mean the same thing.
JOHN: So I can’t appreciate your paintings as prints?
VINCE: You can still appreciate them, of course, because the story is still there in each print, but you know the artist’s hand hasn’t been involved. There’s a different emotive, visceral thing that comes with an original that has been created by a human being. A print is a photograph of an original that has been reproduced. It’s not quite the same thing.
TV and film spoon-feeds you everything – the characters, the plot, the story, the whole thing.
But a painting is one instant and you decide what went before and after and what the back story is…
What happened after that moment?
What happened leading up to the instant captured by that paining?
And that is what people do. They write to me to tell me what they think is going on. Everyone sees something slightly different.
JOHN: Do you take commissions?
VINCE: No. I haven’t got time and I don’t want to paint someone just because they want to be painted. I’m very busy and I paint what I want to paint.