L.A.-based painter SAGE VAUGHN will be by signing copies of his stunning new monograph ICE AGE.
For Sage Vaughn, art offers an endless way to explore the nebulous borders between humanity and the wild world. “To me that line between nature and city life is always ebbing and flowing, with the two forces continually influencing each other,” says Vaughn, whose dreamy yet disquieting paintings frequently feature members of the animal kingdom as their subjects. “You see it in coyotes running out onto the freeway and grass growing out of pavement—it’s this ongoing push-and-pull that echoes the conflict we feel within ourselves as we try not to give into our own wildness.”
In his debut book Ice Age (Zero+ Publishing), Vaughn presents over a hundred paintings from the last half-decade of his career. Both magical and melancholy, the paintings often set vibrantly hued birds and butterflies against drab, near-photorealistic backgrounds that portray unsettling city scenes. “In a lot of ways birds seem like the best metaphor for what I’m talking about with my work,” says Vaughn, whose paintings recently appeared in the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s Transmission LA: AV Club (a collaborative exhibition curated by Mike D of the Beastie Boys. “The fact that we chop these trees down and strip all the branches off and put them in concrete and string wires from them so we can talk to each other, and that birds still land on those trees just like they do in the forest—those are the kinds of things that fascinate me.” Spliced throughout Ice Age are several representations of Vaughn’s “envelope pieces,” a series of free-and-easy creations including everything from painted sketches to collages.
Born in Oregon but raised in the San Fernando Valley, Vaughn first learned to draw with the help of his father, a commercial artist for Disney. “That’s how my dad and I hung out—we made art,” he says. Despite his penchant for drawing and painting, however, Vaughn decided to forgo pursuing a career in art in favor of studying to become a doctor. But after 3 years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Vaughn dropped out and returned to Los Angeles to work construction while honing his painting style in a makeshift studio in a friend’s garage.
In 2001,Vaughn teamed up with his grandmother for his debut exhibition at a community center in the Valley. Within the next few years Vaughn was showing in New York City and San Francisco and—by 2006—featured in exhibitions in both the U.S. and abroad. Over the last seven years, Vaughn’s work has appeared in group and solo shows at leading-edge galleries like The DACTYL Foundation for the Arts in New York, Galerie Bertrand & Gruner in Geneva, Lazarides in London, Art Agents Gallery in Germany, and at Art Fairs such as ArtLA in Los Angeles, VOLTA at the Whitney Biennial in New York, and ArtBrussels in Belgium.
Now working out of his own studio in Pasadena, Vaughn says he’s perpetually inspired by the glimpses of nature he encounters while roaming around L.A. “Sometimes a painting begins with those observations, something like seeing a hawk perched on the top of a lamp over the freeway,” he says. “It might not lead to my painting that moment itself, but it gets me thinking about those sorts of juxtapositions.” Describing his color choices as “extremely Southern Californian,” Vaughn notes that the city’s smog-softened light and color palette have also heavily influenced his aesthetic. “The haziness of the light in Los Angeles is so unique, and the particulate matter in the air has a huge impact on the way we see distance,” he says. “I think that really comes through in my paintings.”
In capturing those wild things in his work, Vaughn ultimately presents a subtle yet powerful meditation on what he considers a formidable tension within humanity itself. “Nearly all of us struggle with that conflict between our more feral side and the need to give up certain instincts so that we can mutually excel as a civilization,” he says. “Our instincts are constantly colliding with the agreements we’ve made with society and—as a result of that—we’re left having to control the chaos within ourselves.”