When confronted with Vaughn Spann’s work there is an immediate intrigue into the compositional delicacies between the figurative and abstraction. Rich with textures, color and subject matter, he seeks to contribute to the dialogue of the black experience which was once written out of the Art History books. Historically, cultures have been valued on the perceived importance of their art, and there was once a time when no one believed in the value of work made by black artists. Contributing to this critical social and art historical narrative is a central intent and theme running through Spann’s work.
Physicality and materiality sit at the heart of his abstract works. Experimenting with twine, fabric, spray paint, oil paint, resin, plastilina, and paper, to name only a few, he creates luscious reliefs that combine painting as sculpture. Roused by the radical spirit of David Hammons and Shanique Smith, Spann takes objects of the everyday, readily found in hardware stores or at home, and transforms their meaning through context and the introduction of other materials.
Influenced by his grandfather growing up, Spann spent his childhood learning the craft of working with his hands and becoming a maker. Always drawing and building things, this led him to pursue a Bachelors of Fine Arts at Rutgers (Newark), which eventually landed him in the prestigious Yale, Masters in Fine Art program. His surroundings have played a significant influence on his practice, growing up in Orange, New Jersey, living in Newark during college, and more recently in Harlem, has informed how he approaches the canvas. Using materials from the local environment, Spann seeks to expand the possibilities of composition, formalism, and the surface through the process of layering and building up.
The technique of layering and building up of the surface, expanding or contracting the composition, appears across both Spann’s abstractions and figurative work. In his figurative and landscape work, the rich and vibrant colors draw on the African diaspora, while his abstracts are composed of found materials, reliefs, and dimensionality. Spann often works on paper as well, sometimes considered a secondary material, but one of both delicacy and strength. Expanding the surface and experimenting with the possibilities of paper in a multitude of ways.
This past November, Spann participated in, San Francisco veteran, Karen Jenkins-Johnson’s project space in Brooklyn who is deftly committed to promoting emerging African American artists and curators.