Figure and Ground presents a fresh and original view of the artist Keith Vaughn (1912-1977). The exhibition consists of some 50 prints, drawings and photographs selected from nearly 500 Vaughan items held in the School of Art collection at Aberystwyth University.
The exhibition explores the themes that preoccupied him – the male figure and pictorial space. Initially influenced by Graham Sutherland, Vaughan’s early work was Neo-Romantic in spirit. In the late 1950s he developed his semi-abstractionist ‘assemblies’.
This is a significant holding of a wide range of work in different media: drawings for some of his most important book illustration commissions, his experiments in print-making, and his photographs, some of which formed his own selection collected in Dick’s Book of Photographs (assembled around 1939).
This part of the Aberystwyth collection has never been the subject of an exhibition before. It has been augmented for Figure and Ground by loans from Amgueddfa Cymru and a private collection.The fully illustrated book which accompanies the exhibition, published by Sansom & Co, contains three essays based on new research on Vaughan and his times.
The publication has been supported by The Derek Williams Trust, The Hargreaves and Ball Trust and Aberystwyth University.
Keith Vaughan was one of the most outstanding artists of his generation. He abandoned a career in advertising in 1939 to pursue painting. From 1941 to 1944 he served in the Pioneer Corps. His drawings of army life, however, such as Breakfast in the Marquee (1942; see Vaughan, p. 49), attracted attention and he entered the circle of Peter Watson in London. From 1946 to 1952 he shared a studio with John Minton. As a younger generation Neo-Romantic he was heavily influenced by Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore and William Blake. During the 1950s Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse were major influences, but most important was that of Nicolas De Stael, who enabled him to reconcile figurative and abstract elements. He was essentially a painter of figure compositions that attempted to balance male nudes with abstract environments, exemplified by his nine Assemblies begun in 1952.
After 1945 Vaughan travelled in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Mexico and the USA, where he was resident artist at Iowa State University in 1959. He taught in London at Camberwell School of Art (1946–8) and the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1948–57) and was a visiting teacher at the Slade School of Fine Art (1959–77). His remarkable journal (1939–77), inspired by André Gide, reveals the tension in his life and work between intellectual puritanism and unrepressed sensuality. His work can be regarded as an expression of his feelings about the male body. Despite considerable success, including the award of a CBE in 1965, he became increasingly melancholic and reclusive.
image detail: The Woodman also known as The Blue Boy, 1949
Lithograph Aberystwyth University © Estate of Keith Vaughan
7 July–24 November National Museum Cardiff, Wales