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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drawing a Fine Line
At a time when image - and being seen to say and do `the right thing' - is so important in art (and society), it makes a refreshing change to be exposed to the `fearless candour' (Gerard Hastings) of Keith Vaughan's (1912-1977) late or `final' journals (covering the last twenty-seven months of his life). Vaughan was a singular figure in post-War British art. Self-taught...
Published 20 months ago by PD

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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A repetitive, boring and disappointingly unimportant journal.
An account of the last couple of years of a minor post-war British painter, terminally ill with colon cancer. These are mainly spent remembering past sexual encounters and bickering with his current partner as he screws himself up to commit suicide. The high points of his days are his masturbations. I truly cannot imagine why his editor bothered. We're told of...
Published 19 months ago by David Compton


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drawing a Fine Line, 11 Jan 2013
This review is from: Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan (Hardcover)
At a time when image - and being seen to say and do `the right thing' - is so important in art (and society), it makes a refreshing change to be exposed to the `fearless candour' (Gerard Hastings) of Keith Vaughan's (1912-1977) late or `final' journals (covering the last twenty-seven months of his life). Vaughan was a singular figure in post-War British art. Self-taught and uncompromising in his paintings (and, perhaps especially, his journals), he had a full but psychologically and emotionally troubled existence: the very stuff of much great visual art and writing. His expressive visual work is marked by a sense of loss, homo-erotic yearnings (he was homosexual himself), a sense of alienation from the self, others and one's environment, and a most distinctive use of gouache and its colours - not least of all the creation of a very characteristic mottled-deposit texture made by using the repelling of water-based pigments by oily wax, taught to him by Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) during the Second World War.

Influenced equally by major and minor painters alike (Cézanne and Brangwyn, for instance), Vaughan developed a distinctive style which is often instantly recognizable yet rather elusive. Although he is principally known for his figurative work, Vaughan also moved to produce exhilarating colour-led abstract pieces later in his life. His interest as a painter is enhanced by his fascination for European art (e.g. Matisse, Braque, Bonnard, Chagall - elements of all of whose works can be seen in Vaughan's own output). Unlike quite a few post-War British painters, he used drawing as preparation for his oils - until he decided against this practice in order to immerse himself in the painting process completely. Like some great British painters of the twentieth century (most notably Sickert), Vaughan sometimes relied heavily on photographs in the preparation of his paintings, as has been uncovered in recent research by Hastings. Talking of Vaughan's paintings elsewhere, Hastings describes them as `quiet reflections on his own experience. [They] helped him to make sense of his own existence and daily realities'. Beyond these aims, Vaughan described his paintings' subject as `man in relation to his environment' - and it can be safely assumed that this environment was, inter alia, emotional, physical, mental, psychological and sexual - that is to say, existential in a broad sense.

One of the most refreshing aspects of Vaughan's entries is his near-naïve, yet sophisticatedly cultivated, belief in wanting to `pass on the truth to others'. Vaughan reveals all about his (often fetishistic) sexual proclivities (some of the descriptions of electro-therapy are not for the faint-hearted), his difficult relationship with his long-term partner, Ramsay McClure, his mother and himself. Yet, the journals are subtle, and one has to read between the lines, too - or dare one say, `behind' them. As Vaughan himself says: `One cannot go about spiritually and emotionally naked.' To most writers (and people!) such a self-admonishment might announce an excuse to swerve painful self-knowledge, but Vaughan (like Kafka) reaches such depths of self-honesty at times that some self-protection is quite forgivable, even necessary.

In contemporary British culture which revels in a vertiginous constellation of hardness and sentimentality (no contradictions there!), Vaughan creates, and is driven by, the opposite: warmth and calm-headedness. So, these journals are a timely reminder of forgotten values - not least of all since they are published in the centenary year of Vaughan's birth. He is not afraid to root out and confront the realities and failures of his own life time and again - where lesser men might flee to the compromising smile of gritted teeth. He accuses his own partner of `hating' him yet terming this hatred love and `thus escaping the quiet of truthfulness' (itself a phrase to conjure with!). Vaughan is not embarrassed to puncture man's (his own and his closest loved ones') pretensions and self-delusions in order to remain focused on truth and integrity - but without falling prey to (the near-synonyms of) self-importance and ideology. Words are expensive for Vaughan - and he is prepared to pay their price. It is a passing honour for his reader to be able to benefit from his sacrifice and courage: `I have never thought that we [KV and McClure] were ideally suited to live together or to get the best out of each other - very few couples are' (p.52). Few dare to think what Vaughan dares to write and place in the nervous realm of posterity.

An uncommon exhilaration afforded by the stance Vaughan's journal adopts towards its writer is seen in the tension between ruthlessly critical expositions of those he knows and scrupulous self-examination. He can thank friends for their extraordinary kindness, while maintaining that he lacks the capacity to love and that he is in a vicious circle of insecurity because proximity to others deprives him of a sense of self on account of his adopting a persona. Yet, Vaughan's vision of love and companionship is not just negatively defined: `The most successful, [sic] friendship depends on a mutual respect for each person's loneliness ...' (p.124). The ruthless self-honesty does not stop there: `I cannot pretend to feel grief [at the death of my mother]. Only relief that a useless life has ceased' (p.151). Somehow, in Vaughan's hands, these cruel, cold words do not form a cruel, cold sentiment - and therein lies much of the covert intrigue of this uncensored, unmediated volume.

With its unobtrusively clear, legible text, the production of this unfashionably plain book by Pagham Press is to be admired. The fact that the writing is interspersed with some of Vaughan's own drawings is a helpful reminder of the multivalent relationship between language and line. A near-Fauve Adam and Eve, with the modest but doleful yearning for love inevitably reminiscent of Chagall, can be comfortably juxtaposed alongside more robust, expressive line-drawings of homoerotic scenes which are simultaneously hard-edged and tender (calm-headed and warm, one might say). Vaughan's figures - like the narrator of his journal - seem alone, almost landscape-less yet troubled, endlessly existentially harried by their environment, others and themselves. These outside disturbances are no excuse to overlook the self-doubt of creator and characters alike, though - and Vaughan forges, often with a few straight and tortured lines, unaffected love, emotional proximity, even sometimes rising successfully to the challenge of transcending lover as neighbour and making two, however briefly, into one (see, for instance, drawing at bottom of p.37). Photographs of some of the protagonists and places in Vaughan's life help to lend a useful context. Perhaps aided by Vaughan's richly associative text and drawings, even some of the simple photographs become character portraits (see: Gordon Hargreaves (p.86), a keen collector of Vaughan's work; and John Ball (p.87), Hargreaves's partner, collector and professor of zoology).

A (quiet but practical) beauty of Drawing to a Close is that it is a two-speed book: because Hastings helpfully places the text in two styles (regular for Vaughan's journal entries and italics for Hastings's own explanatory text), I found it immensely useful to (be able to) read the book quickly but without short-cuts or abridgement. In the way that one may prefer to walk round an exhibition first and just look at the exhibits in order form one's own opinions and mental patterns about the work on show (without the interference of secondary material), the reader here can read all of Vaughan's entries - before embarking upon Hastings's well-researched annotations, themselves forming an independent, engaging narrative. The book is very judiciously edited - not too much peripheral information and just the right level of contextualizing detail - and the acid test is that the characters come alive in taking their place in the context of Vaughan's life, and perhaps more, importantly, thoughts.

In closing, one should perhaps remind oneself that exposure to these deeply personal thoughts is a privilege. For a newcomer to Vaughan, the journals provide (sometimes subtle, sometimes inadvertent) clues about his work (but please look at the paintings first!); for the Vaughan devotee, these journals from the end of his life can help to give a fuller picture of the expressive qualities of a creative and intellectually intense man; for the scholar, the journals provide very useful information about Vaughan's thoughts as he painted in these last years; and, finally, for the simply curious, Vaughan's words are a testament to a humanness and serious commitment to truth which is very difficult to find elsewhere today, in such an undiluted and articulate form.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drawing to a close: The final Journals of Keith Vaughan, 2 April 2013
This review is from: Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan (Hardcover)
Keith Vaughan is one of the most important of post war British artists. He was almost alone in tackling one of the most challenging subjects: figures in a landscape. His series of paintings: Assembly of Figures are amongst the most innovative and moving accounts of existential man in the modern world. An equally important achievement was his set of journals providing a rare insight into the creative mind and the often lonely predicament of the artist.
These were first published by Alan Ross in 1966 and were a brave and candid account of his life and homosexuality. A further publication by John Murray in 1989 brought the journals up to 1977 and his suicide. However, the picture was not complete, until now. Gerard Hastings has provided a definitive account of the last years with the publication: Drawing to a close, the final journals of Keith Vaughan. It is rare to find an account of an artist`s life that is as well researched and authentic as this, the author having personal contact with those who knew and were close friends of the artist. This publication will become essential reading for historians, scholars and researchers into the life and work of Keith Vaughan and post war British Art. We have a debt to Gerard Hastings for providing us with this erudite publication.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan, 8 April 2013
This review is from: Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan (Hardcover)
This booked worked on so many levels for me - the thoughts of a terminally ill man, assisted suicide in the 1970s, an insight into a creative artist's psyche and above all the human tenderness shown in the editor's flashbacks using Vaughan's earlier (unpublished) journals.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A repetitive, boring and disappointingly unimportant journal., 5 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan (Hardcover)
An account of the last couple of years of a minor post-war British painter, terminally ill with colon cancer. These are mainly spent remembering past sexual encounters and bickering with his current partner as he screws himself up to commit suicide. The high points of his days are his masturbations. I truly cannot imagine why his editor bothered. We're told of Vaughan's wit and of what good company he was, but almost nothing of this appears in his journal (one joke, really), and of his art we also are shown very little, mostly determinedly genital line drawings of male nudes - previously unpublished, one gathers. Indeed, the volume's basic purpose may well be to celebrate contemporary broad-mindedness, and I don't grudge it that, but two-sixty pages of text do need rather more.
Vaughan knew many interesting art world people, but tells us nothing of them. Apart from sex, his principal interest is suicide but he's disappointingly superficial even there, concerned with techniques rather than philosophies. It's touching, of course, that, having finally taken the pills supplied (lucky man) by his obliging doctor, he fades into unconsciousness in mid-sentence, pen in hand, head on page, but gosh, I can't be the only reader to be much relieved. The moment's been far too long a-coming.
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Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan
Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan by Gerard Hastings (Hardcover - 9 Mar 2012)
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