Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This year is the centenary of the birth of the British artist, Keith Vaughan. He died as a result of a drug-and-drink overdose in 1977, at the age of 65.

Vaughan was initially part of the Neo-Romantic revival of the 1940s, headed by Graham Sutherland, and a group that included artists such as John Minton, Michael Ayrton and John Craxton, before developing his own idiosyncratic style. The peak of his career was perhaps the Whitechapel Gallery retrospective in 1962.

There are currently two exhibitions of Vaughan’s work, one at Agnew’s Gallery London and the second at Pallant House Chichester, both of which I plan to see.

I am currently reading Vaughan’s journals, 1935-1977 (Keith Vaughan. Journals 1939-1977. London: Faber, 2010). The artist himself published the initial entries, from 1939 to 1965, in 1966. Alan Ross edited the later journals, from 1967 to Vaughan’s death in 1977, which were originally published in the London Magazine in 1983. The currently available version, edited and prefaced by Ross and published by Faber, contain approximately 1/4 of the total 62 journals.

The earlier journals are hopeful, and focus mainly on art. The later entries read more like the ‘chronicle of a decline’ (Ross), where Vaughan’s creative output features less, and appear to be predominantly late night, often drunken, outpourings on illness, suicide and failure. Once he entered what he himself called the ‘Cancer Era’, he prepared for death.

The journals are divided into five sections, 1939-43, 1944-46, 1948-59, 1960-65, and 1967-77.

I have only just commenced reading the journals, but I am already seduced. In the preface, written in 1966, he muses on why he started writing:

‘Its purpose was therapeutic and consolatory.’

‘…it was an attempt to analyse and understand a state of total confusion and defeat.’

He also states:

‘But introspection is a luxury which can be indulged only when the framework of one’s life is reasonably ordered and secure.’

I look forward to immersing myself in more of Vaughan’s words, and art, this week.

I shall report back…