Essays by James Hyman

Keith Vaughan

Keith Vaughan


James Hyman


The death of an artist often leads to a period of silence, followed by reappraisal. In the case of Keith Vaughan who died in 1977, recent years have witnessed exhibitions, the publication of substantial extracts from his private journals, and a biography by Malcolm Yorke, which presents in intimate, at times intrusive detail, the thoughts and feelings of the artist.

Such is the pungency of the journals that many of the entries have tended to sensationalise the life and overshadow the work. Fortunately, at Austin Desmond where these journals are displayed for the first time (13th September to 12th October), they are presented alongside sketchbooks, paintings and drawings from all periods of Vaughan's career, providing a welcome chance to reassess once more the artist's achievements.

In common with `Neo-Romantic' artists such as John Piper, Graham Sutherland, John Minton and John Craxton, with whom he established his early reputation, Vaughan rooted his art in nature, giving particular prominence to the landscape of Britain. But as Vaughan would later stress in his journals, and as this exhibition amply demonstrates, it was the figure in a setting that was his real subject. As Vaughan observed in his journal: "it is impossible to conceive a human form apart from its environment."

"The problem" wrote Vaughan in an entry of 1964, "is to find an image which renders the tactile, physical presence of the human being without resorting to the classical techniques of anatomical paraphrase. . . to create a figure without any special identity (either of number or gender) but which is unmistakably human."'

Although he almost exclusively painted male figures, frequently naked, Vaughan wrote that he wanted to move beyond gender seeking, like Cézanne, to integrate man and the natural environment. The ambition was considerable, but as this exhibition demonstrates, Vaughan's paintings at their best transcend the turbulence of his life, achieving a calming impression of tranquillity, reconciliation and harmony.

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