Critics’ Picks

Keith Vaughan, Two Interlinked Figures, 1965, gouache on paper, 21 x 17".

Brighton

Keith Vaughan

Royal Pavilion & Museums
4/5 Pavilion Buildings
June 10 - November 9

“A Volatile Medium,” the title of this exhibition, is also how Keith Vaughan referred to gouache, the material and technique he employed increasingly in the last fifteen years of his life, following his 1962 retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery. He would often mix his gouaches with other materials, such as vinegar, to further increase the process’s volatility, finding a new sort of freedom in chaos and uncontrollability. As journal excerpts included in the exhibition reveal, Vaughan was something of an automatist, producing inspired studies of the male figure faster than his dealer could sell them.

In Warrior, 1960, a male figure is depicted with his back to the viewer. The background landscape is smudged with swaths of color, as is the figure himself, his body nearly becoming one with its surroundings. Often, Vaughan depicted myriad figures in a single image, the delirious thick black lines that form their bodies intersecting and merging, one on top of another, as in an untitled gouache on paper work from 1975.

That there is a certain degree of gloominess haunting these late works is fitting and understandable, given the circumstances under which they were created. Vaughan wrestled throughout most of his life with depression related to his homosexuality and difficulties in sustaining long-term relationships, although these struggles never depleted the prolific outpour of his work. Indeed, his melancholy may well have helped feed his work’s increasingly expressionistic and dreamlike qualities. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1975 and committed suicide two years later, documenting the process of dying by writing in his journal as the pills kicked in. Yet the joyful and desirous frenzy of the line emerging in drawings such as Man Feeding Birds, 1975, implies that art was also, for Vaughan, a zone of happiness, and perhaps the sole domain where the potentialities of hope could flourish.