In 1980 I discovered this collection of erotic images, pasted into a Winsor and Newton sketchbook. It was stuffed into the back of a cupboard in the house of Dr. Patrick Woodcock, Vaughan’s doctor. The album was inscribed by Vaughan with the words ‘Erotic Fantasies 1940-1960’.
Vaughan may not have wanted to paint a sexually appealing painting for public consumption, but the case was very different behind the locked door of his studio. His private images, typified by the ‘Erotic Fantasies’, differ from his gallery work in various key respects. In them he presents comparable activities…but undiluted, unrestricted and undisguised. These private works are usually executed in pencil, pen, ink or gouache and are always on paper. Their small scale, no doubt, offering a highly intimate involvement as he created them, and a gratifyingly ‘close-up’ experience on subsequent viewing. They invariably remained unframed and languished in handmade cardboard folders labelled variously: ‘Grafitti [sic] Drawings’, ‘Reclining Figure’, ‘Erotic’ etc. It would have been unthinkable to show these images to galleries, dealers or clients. Instead they were reserved for his private use as an extension of his psychosexual fantasy life and they occasionally fed into, in a disguised manner, his more public work. While he may have given his imaginative fantasies plastic form, Vaughan certainly did not permit them to leave the confines of his studio. Even trusted gay friends like Prunella Clough, John Ball, Gordon Hargreaves and Patrick Woodcock knew nothing of this aspect of his output until after his death.
In a postscript to his ‘Memoire’ (February 1965), Vaughan philosophically weighed up the effect that his early development had on the character and quality of the rest of his life. He describes having lived as if behind a locked door, in the margin rather than on the main page and regrets the wasted opportunities which he had allowed to slip by. His overpowering physical desires and intense longings to forge a satisfying relationship were stifled by acute self-consciousness, a knack of selecting inappropriate partners and a predisposition to suppress emotional involvement. He could never permit budding relationships to develop into something sustaining and serious and, consequently, his emotional life remained unfulfilled.
“I felt no sense of belonging to any group or level of society. I had no circle of friends…And my search for the magical friend & lover who would transform life continued unabated. I would claim now, in middle age, to be a sensualist, since nothing gives me more pleasure than gratifying & indulging physical needs…Yet I think by nature I am ill-equipped for the sensual life since my inhibitions have always prevented me from indulging them to the full…I cannot help a sense of dismay when I look back on my lost youth. All those years when I should have been young & free & daring, but was living, or existing in the hen-coop of my mother’s tolerance or approval, which I dared not outrage. And my inherited timidity which held me back from every enticing encounter. The great inhibitors. If I had only understood then what I do now, or if someone had understood for me, there would have been time to do something about it. I could have been analyzed perhaps. The chains could have been unfastened & I might have led a fuller life. Compared with young people today my life was ridiculous. I did nothing. A humdrum routine of Lintas from 9.00-5.00 & then evenings at home with mother trying to listen to music on the radio. Warm, cozy, well fed, comfortable, & half dead.” (Gerard Hastings, extracts from ‘Awkward Artefacts: The ‘Erotic Fantasies’ of Keith Vaughan’, Pagham Press, 2017).
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