Book of the Week: Keith Vaughan by Philip Vann and Gerard Hastings

Shortly after I joined Lund Humphries in late 1991, somebody put forward the idea for a series of short, low-priced, illustrated monographs on the key figures in modern British art. It would be a Penguin Modern Painters series for the end of the millennium. Lists of artists were drawn up and authors approached. One of the first potential writers to visit was Philip Vann, keen to contribute a volume on Keith Vaughan. At the time, this seemed an eccentrically modest launch volume for a series with grand pretensions. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the series as then conceived never got much further.

But some 20 years later, both Philip and Keith Vaughan were back on the list, and we were poised to publish the first monograph on Vaughan in time for the centenary of his birth in 2012. Philip had been joined by a co-author, artist, writer and collector Gerard Hastings.  And Gerard brought with him access to one of the very few existing copies of Vaughan’s complete, handwritten Journals. Over the winter months of 2011-12 Philip Vann, charged with reviewing Keith Vaughan’s art and life,  pored over some 750,000 words of the artist’s intimate, personal and often harrowing writings, captured in 61 volumes written over 38 years (1939-77) – privileged but strangely intrusive access to an artist’s inner world.

Gerard brought his painter’s eye to a study of the technique of the lesser-known gouaches – a fascinating, close-up view which complemented the bigger story. And with the help of Osborne Samuel Gallery, we unearthed and photographed works in private collections, enabling us to reproduce together for the first time Vaughan’s major series of nine Assemblies of Figures.

Slowly Keith Vaughan is emerging from the wilderness years.  His centenary show (although not at the Tate) attracted positive critical attention, and our book has been roundly praised (‘This book will contribute to the growing interest in this artist, while Gerard Hastings’s essay on the gouaches draws attention to a previously overlooked aspect of Vaughan’s work’, wrote Frances Spalding).  Gerard Hastings has published a critical edition of the final volume of Keith Vaughan’s Journals, and is about to launch a new book on Vaughan’s photographs.  In September 2012, Vaughan was reported to be the best-selling artist of the 20/21 British Art Fair. And now there’s another exhibition, Keith Vaughan: Figure and Ground, of unseen work by Vaughan from the Aberystwyth collection, including drawings for some of his most important book-illustration commissions, his experiments in print-making, and his photographs. Keith Vaughan is very firmly on the British Art map.

Lucy Myers, Managing Director

Keith Vaughan by Philip Vann and Gerard Hastings. 2012.  Hardback. 184 pages. 174 colour and 12 b&w illustrations. £40 / $80