Keith Vaughan, Pallant House, Chichester


Here is a fine painter at his finest – whose pictures, despite their bulk, show humanity at its frailest in an overwhelming landscape

The seated man watching the Musicians at Marrakesh is – at least in the mind of Keith Vaughan – the artist himself looking on and listening in. The massive back, bottle-top head and wayward limbs are grey and lumpen. The musicians, by contrast, are glowing, creamy and luminous: the ochre drum, a radiant little sun, the cross-legged player as neat and focused as his observer is awkward.

Vaughan cuts a sad figure in the history of British modern art too, disappointed with himself, despite the impressive body of work, the CBE, and the many successes he lists to himself in his extensive, revealing diaries, as he attempts, fruitlessly, to talk himself into living. At 65 took his own life, thoughtful and analytical to the end. He had nothing to reprove himself for: the exhibition that marks the centenary of his birth, at Pallant House in Chichester, near his birthplace, Selsey, celebrates an artist who absorbed many influences but had his own distinctive voice.

His quest was to "create an image without any special identity, either of gender or number, which is unmistakably human; imaginative without being imaginary". So the male(ish) models, lovers and friends who people his pictures show more humanity than manliness, their condition one of frailty, despite their bulk, in a landscape so powerful it can swallow them whole.

The crouching specimen in Man in a Cave could be both born of the rock and returning to it: in 1943 this is Vaughan's response to the Second World War. A conscientious objector, he served in the Pioneer Corps, taking a fat sketch book and an unbreakable bottle of ink. Thrown together with other intellectuals, he became not only a perceptive chronicler of his own life, but a friend of writers and a contributor to their groundbreaking periodicals. He was a perfect fit for book-jacket illustration, outstanding examples of which are showcased here.

The subtitle of this exhibition is Romanticism to Abstraction, and, by the Fifties, the landscapes that make up the final room of this captivating show are breaking up into impenetrable blocks of colour, Black Rocks and Beach Huts, Whitby Bay (1955) dominated by dark chunks that tower over a gleaming white hut. By 1962 and Cenarth Farm, colour is breaking off in clumps, the squarish green fields puffing up into the sky.

And yet in January 1954 he has declared firmly for figurative painting: "Now I have my instrument, but what to play on it," he asks of himself, after a show whose very success made him doubt his worth. "Abstraction seems the way out for most other painters. But I cannot regard it as a solution."

And yet the figure/landscape balance tips inch by inch into abstraction. From the outset, Vaughan painted beach scenes and placed his monumental forms in Bacon-like empty rooms or in passive open spaces, his nudes almost as androgynous as the two faces kissing in the moon that has fallen to earth in Night in the Streets of the City. (The actor Michael Redgrave bought it in 1943.) Even painting his lover Johnny Walsh for the magnificent Standing Figure, Kouros (1960), in place of sensuality he invokes an antique classicism, the model's arms held rigidly to his static sides, his hair two severe stripes instead of a luscious tumble of ringlets.

Such references to other art, ancient and modern, punctuate the whole show: here is Matisse, lending his bathers, and before him, Cézanne. Here too are Sutherland, with his wartime destruction, and Picasso, with his interwar neo-classicism.

Declaring that a painter has just one basic idea for life, and that his was the human figure, Vaughan clings to man in the Sixties. But man loses his individuality in the series of nine Assembly of Figures that distils the essence of what it is to be human. In the first of the two shown in Chichester, two burly nudes peer at the ground as a third lifts a restless arm and leg: is it dance or despair? So often a hand reaches into the air, clutching at a place in the cosmos. By 1964, in Assembly of Figures VII, the rank of torsos has fused together and into the landscape like standing stones, a head here, an arm there, the synchronisation complete. Here is a fine painter at his finest – and still racked by self-doubt. Here, too, is a worthy and moving celebration of an unfashionably self-doubting artist.


To 10 Jun (01243 774557)

Art choice

Get a new perspective on Joan Miro at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where his art comes to startling 3D life in the simply titled Miro: Sculptor. But there's no rush, the show's on till 6 Jan 2013. All About Eve takes in the career of photojournalist Eve Arnold, from snaps of Marilyn Monroe to Malcolm X. At London's Art Sensus gallery (till 27 Apr).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?