Sage Vaughn’s press bio is a juxtaposition of culture and wildness, of knowing clichés and their subversion, bold phrases that beg repetition, and suggestions of a contemplative day trip into the ‘real’.
But what does his work say?
A Lazarides show is a hot ticket at the moment. Each exhibition is a snap-shot of contemporary art at its most vibrant and commercially viable but within its graf splattered interiors there are signs of ease. The motifs of street art are starting to feel a little shop-worn to a reviewer’s eyes and the individual messages are starting to become subsumed to a sense of stockness. The admixture of traditional craft and technique with the vibrancy of pop inflected illustration is starting to feel like shorthand for ‘Buy me’ and ‘Now’. Should this affect the viewer’s appreciation of an artist’s work? Not necessarily. Does it? Yes.
Sage Vaughn has been a called ‘the only artist with a blue collar mentality’, a man who believes that art is a privilege not a right. Apparently, ‘he works from 9am till 6pm each day except when he’s got a show coming up and then he never stops’. I’m not sure this does him any favours as it is reminiscent of William Burroughs’ (albeit borrowed) riposte on the question of Somerset Maugham; ‘He’s an accomplished typist’. All successful artists are inspired individuals who have the dedication to accomplish by doing, so I’m not sure that slavish adherence to a schedule for the sake of production is as revealing as it might be. That is, unless we take it to mean that Vaughn approaches his work in the mode of factory-like production and repetition; which, in fact, he does.
Butterflies and Bird, these are the motorcars and soup cans of Vaughn’s production lines. Nature repeated, cheery and inane, over individual scenes of war, urban decay and psychic attrition. Vaughn’s vision reveals the world as unique in its horror and ordinary in its natural beauty. The wry drips from countless butterflies and impersonal birds emotively suggest that the viewer, while arguing that urban existence is muted and mundane, ignores the particularity of its ongoing wounding and unique scars, preferring the static repetitions of nature.
The repeated superhero costumes can be seen to work in the same way. Humanity craves these timeless heroes, reproducing them over and over as a way of making sense of the complexity of contemporary existence. And so passes the case for heroically pastoral escapism and also the previous generation of ‘Big Thought’ artists (Hirst et al).
It seems an interesting inversion and one which lies at the heart of much contemporary street inflected art (Miranda Donovan’s recent work with its inverted domesticity might be read to operate in the same way), drawing attention to the problems of society as intellectually the most vibrantly novel subject for analysis. Is it narcissistic to assume that our own problems are the most interesting? Yes, but then they’re the ones we have (some) control over.
Vaughn’s artistic statement here is that the subject is ‘Now’, authored ‘By You’, echoing the perspective of Descartes’ subject-object duality. We see what we want to see, we see variation where there is none and see the constantly changing as the static if only as an absolution for the evil that we seem powerless to change. Is he arguing against it? Probably, but the paradox is that in contemplating static things like nature we get a sense of permanence and with that understanding people are more likely to reject the temporary horrors of society as opposed to keeping on walking.
You have to chalk the show up in the win column, perhaps begrudgingly as it doesn’t leap out as startlingly new and its repetitions on a theme can become slightly weary. They are all fine works and well executed but the underlying uniform pessimism distances the viewer from a message that might well be important.
Sage Vaughn : Children of a Lesser God
Lazarides Gallery, 6th May – 4th June. http://www.lazinc.com/