Vaughn Spann: Open Onto
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Artist Vaughn Spann (American, born 1992) has spent the last three years open to many timely conversations in his artistic practice—from self-care and personal experience to social injustice and racialized violence. This thematic range is reflected in the varied forms his work has taken on during this period, an array of portraiture and dense mixed-media abstractions. Open Onto, Spann’s first museum solo exhibition, presents works from 2017 to 2020 that represent a cross section of his category- and style-defying practice.
Spann engages concepts and ideas anchored in context; his works bounce unpredictable or complicated patterns in life off of one another. In works like Earth (2020) Spann focuses on nature and how it responds to natural and manmade phenomena. The thickly encrusted black surface atop this painting almost prevents the deep red and electric green from peeking through, appearing like new vegetation coming up through chunks of lava. As the COVID-19 pandemic kept many people from their daily work/life activities, a connection to nature opened in Spann’s world that guided the mark making and color of his recent works.
Spann often begins with a personal framework, grounding his work in an experience or context that can open up to larger social and historical issues. Using this approach, he contends with his subjects in both playful and difficult ways. In earlier work like Dalmatian No. 7 (Militant Formation) (2018) Spann reflects on the palette of houses he saw growing up in Florida and New Jersey as well as the Dalmatian dog breed’s spots. Together, these elements suggest a sense of American luxury and stability that he breaks down, playing with the forms and colors to create movement and rhythm on the canvas. Goliath (2020), a monumental-scaled “X” surrounded by a bold pink and blue background—part of an ongoing series titled Marked Man—reflects Spann’s personal experience being stopped and frisked by police as a college student. This symbol can also speak to similar experiences that countless others have suffered as victims of systemic racism. While the symbol connects to our current reality, it is also a stark reminder of generations of racial violence in the United States.
Sharon and John Hoffman