Vaughn Spann is one of the most talented artists working today, and he already is off to a great start in his artistic career despite being so young. His current work centers around paintings that seek to explore abstraction, figuration, and formalism in new ways and from different perspectives, and he’s currently been focusing on portraiture and mixed-material abstractions that have enchanted and inspired viewers.
Vaughn was born in Florida in 1992 and grew up in Orange, New Jersey. He now lives and works in nearby Newark, and he received his Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from Rutgers University in 2014 and an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2018.
In the few short years since earning his degree, he’s been on an upward trajectory and his work has been included in more than three dozen group shows across the country. Vaughn’s work can also be found at leading institutions and in private collections like the Hirschhorn Museum, ICA Miami, NCMA, Montclair Art Museum, Perez Museum of Art, High Museum, UBS Art Collection, and the Rubell Family Collection. He was also a recipient of the 2017 Alice Kimball Traveling Fellowship.
One thing that I really admire about Vaughn’s work is that he doesn’t conform to one singular style. His paintings are each unique in that they show how he’s committed to producing both surreal figurative scenes as well as abstractions. Some of his most widely-recognized works include depictions of two-headed figures and animals, giant X’s, and recreations of the American flag. Of the X’s that appear throughout his work, Vaughn has stated that it is a “reference to his own personal experience with stop-and-frisk measures by police over the years.”
To me, Vaughn is already a leader in the contemporary arts community with the ways he’s exploring the overlap of space, memory, and time through abstraction and figuration. Though he seems to approach his work through a traditional lens, he goes far beyond that to require his viewers to question our experiences and what we know about the world around us. His use of unconventional materials heightens these efforts and cements him as someone who is looking at art in a whole new way.