Drawn to the interactions of man and nature, California artist Sage Vaughn is a master of juxtaposition; in his paintings of charming, pastel-colored sparrows, and swarms of brightly-hued butterflies, he compels viewers to rethink his distinctly positive subjects by pairing them with somber backgrounds. With added motifs like dismal skies, barbed wire fences, and militaristic helicopters to his works, Vaughn’s creatures become objects of innocence and hope. This idea is carried into his newest show, “Nobody’s Home,” where Vaughn ventures in a new direction, bringing his subjects indoors.
Vaughn’s stylistic drips, a remnant of his days as a graffiti artist and intentional marks to signify the passage of time, carry into this new body of works, boldly in his butterfly works, and more subtly in his works featuring birds. His interest in wildlife is undoubtedly linked to his earliest memories of sketching animals at the zoo with his father, but the artist is by no means an ornithologist or a lepidopterist; rather, he’s drawn to the creatures due to their similarities with humans in the way they move in groups and live in close contact. Vaughn has said about birds, “I started noticing that the markings and the territorial-ness really correlated to urban gangs. I saw them fight, dive, push each other out of the way—I just liked the connection. It was really the door opener for me to find that vein of material that I wanted to explore. Once I found that door... I wanted to be an artist.”
Vaughn explains the new series: “I’ve used the same settings for the birds as I do when they are on a piece of [barbed wire] … I feel the effect is almost the same, yet there’s another layer. They’re still in the city, but now they’re in places we hope to afford.” Inspired by the physical and metaphorical connotations of an empty home, he represents vacant, sterile interiors, including living rooms with elegant furniture and galleries with recognizable artworks, where his birds and butterflies have been set free. This element of freedom is evident in Mongolian Lamb Pillow Case, where colorful sparrows appear poignantly outside an open birdcage; and in The Gazer (R Prince), where butterflies accompany a man considering a work by Richard Prince, reinforcing the artist’s considerations of man and nature, and also integrating art as a triumph of man.
“Nobody’s Home” is on view at Lazarides Rathbone, London, Jan. 31st—Mar. 1st, 2014.