V… Vaughan | Forging a Path

V…. Vaughan nurtures her freedom to paint what moves her

by Elizabeth L. Delaney

V... Vaughan, Cabin Moon, oil, 12 x 16.

V… Vaughan, Cabin Moon, oil, 12 x 16.

This story was featured in theApril 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  April 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

“I paint because it’s the best way I know to communicate, study, and observe God’s creative work and to think His thoughts after Him.” That’s how Texas painter V…. Vaughan (the first initial stands for Virginia) describes her drive to create fine art. “It’s a calling,” she says of her life’s work, which has taken several twists and turns but has, nevertheless, led her down the path toward fulfillment.

A lifelong Texan, Vaughan grew up in the Austin area and today makes her home in Round Rock, a suburb of the capital city. As a child, she exhibited a love of making art and played the role of the creative one among the seven children in her family, eventually working for several of her siblings as a sign painter and designer. Her parents forever encouraged her to appreciate and mine her passion, instilling in her that it was not simply a passing fancy, but an innate gift. “It was always conveyed to me that this was a God-given talent,” she says. “Somehow that made me feel like it was something I was supposed to do. It gave me permission to pursue it.”

Vaughan attended college on an athletic scholarship, though she filled her schedule with art classes and subsequently secured an internship at an advertising agency. That introduction to the corporate world set her off in a new direction—she left school to parlay the summer job into a full-time position. She continued to work as a commercial artist for many years after that, winning several prestigious ADDY Awards and working on high-profile accounts for Samsung, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Harcourt Publishing, among others.

However, she continued to engage her penchant for fine art. “Commercial work always inspired me to do my own projects,” she recalls. Eventually Vaughan left the advertising world to pursue painting and drawing, along the way studying under such noted contemporaries as Ray Vinella, Kevin Macpherson, Ann Templeton, Kathryn Stats, and Carolyn Anderson.

Vaughan cemented her place in the fine-art arena in 2008, when her family decided to sell the farm they had worked and lived on for multiple generations. She spent an entire year documenting the changing aesthetics of the seasons, as well as the transforming physical and emotional landscape. The series, titled Last Year on the Farm, comprises 365 small paintings, each representing one day in that final 12 months. Vaughan describes the series as “symbolic of the passing of America’s small farms.” Three years later, she began a follow-up series, Passing America, which she painted while on the road, sitting in the passenger seat of a car, bus, or train. These compositions “grasped a glance” of her surroundings—a theme she continues to be drawn to in her art as she explores “the world’s changing paradigm of how we eat and live.”

An artist who enjoys sharing her gifts with others, Vaughan has spent the past two decades teaching artists of all levels. In addition to her part-time position at an area high school, she leads workshops throughout the year for budding artists and professionals alike across Texas and in the mountains of Colorado. She is a member of the Oil Painters of America and the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, as well as a signature member of American Women Artists and American Plains Artists. Her paintings can be found in a number of public and private collections, including those of Alabama’s Gadsden Museum of Art; the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art in David City, NE; and the Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln, NE.

In 2016, Vaughan received the Artists’ Choice award at the 11th annual Cowgirl Up! exhibition. She considers that honor one of her most cherished accomplishments. Held at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ, the acclaimed invitational show features 58 women artists and more than 200 works showcasing the broad array of talent in today’s western genre. “It’s probably every artist’s highest honor when your peers, including people you’ve looked up to and people who have inspired you, vote for you as their choice. It’s really humbling,” she says.

Vaughan’s win came at a time of marked change in her life and career. Struggling with the loss of her mother after several years of caring for her, she found herself searching for motivation to embark on her creative path again. “I was struggling to put things down on canvas,” she recalls. “I knew that I wanted to paint, and I had the inspiration as far as the images go, but I was annoyed with how I was working and couldn’t really pinpoint the problem.” Finally, she realized her physical process was causing the tedium. “I just didn’t feel like getting my brushes dirty,” she says. So instead of going through the laborious process of preparing, sullying, and cleaning her brushes, she began experimenting with disposable rags and towels instead. This alternative approach allowed Vaughan to infuse spontaneity into her work and to gain a new level of expression within each composition. The small collection of wildlife paintings she submitted to Cowgirl Up! that year portrayed the results of her discovery and, moreover, represented a breakthrough for the artist moving forward.

She continues to use the rags and towels in her work and credits the new technique with giving the paintings an elevated sense of freedom. Likewise, she explains that her innovative approach keeps her from reverting back to her graphics-based background, wherein she produced very realistic, precisely detailed images. “That’s not expressive; it’s work,” she remarks of her former life as a commercial artist. “This is more expressive. It’s fun to use the towels and be surprised by the unexpected marks they make.”

Vaughan’s canvases depict a variety of subjects, including landscapes and wildlife. She does not gravitate toward one type of subject matter in particular, though, and explains that her paintings choose her. “I know it when I see it,” she says simply. In essence, her day-to-day experiences dictate her work. There are certain themes, however, that provide continual enticement. These include times of change, such as the rise and fall of the sun and moon. These fleeting moments, which exist on the cusp of two realms, offer intense visual as well as emotional anticipation.

“Lately I’ve been fascinated by the colors of night,” says Vaughan, who is currently working on a series of nocturnes. These compositions explore both the natural and manmade light that appears after dark. Moonlight breaking through the clouds and reflecting off the water, incandescent light emanating from a house, or spotlights beaming off a boat—all seemingly unnatural
juxtapositions that she assembles in concert with one another on the canvas. In addition to the challenges of coalescing the visual elements in such scenes, Vaughan is captivated by the science behind how light behaves as it passes through space and how our eyes perceive and process its effects.

Primarily a plein-air painter, Vaughan works in the field at all times of day, usually from spring to fall. The remainder of the year is spent in her studio, extrapolating and refining the “glimpses” she captured on location. For Vaughan, beginning a piece of art is akin to starting a conversation. She speaks, then waits for a reply before forging ahead. “I like to start things,” she says. “I work really fast, put down the basic lines in the big areas, then walk away for anywhere from an hour to a month, until it calls me back-—and it always calls me back.”

Vaughan’s loose, impressionistic style centers on her intent to immortalize a visual memory—its light, composition, and color story. She likes to experiment with creating various levels of texture, and her surfaces range from smooth to impasto. With the advent of her new application process, she plans to continue this exploration of texture, experimenting with the layering of pigments to create more tactile surfaces.

As she examines her journey as an artist, Vaughan feels that the act of nurturing her freedom to create is crucial in her aesthetic and philosophical growth. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to paint what is motivating me at the time,” she explains, “rather than repeating the same style or subject matter over and over. The way my work has most evolved is that I feel permission to just ‘be an artist’ and paint what I’m feeling.” And along with the delicately preserved moments in time, Vaughan’s feelings are what she commits to each canvas. Her scenes have no conscious subtext, but she does hope viewers will take the time to create their own dialogues with them. “I only want them to like the work, but I’m most pleased if they look at it and see things that I didn’t mean to say—if they like it for reasons other than my own.”

Broadmoor Galleries, Colorado Springs, CO; Reinert Fine Art, Charleston, SC, and Blowing Rock, NC; Firedworks Gallery, Alamosa, CO; Up Against the Wall, Kingsport, TN.

This story was featured in theApril 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  April 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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