In Red Figures, Vaughan generates a tension, both physical and psychological, between the single figure at the left of the composition, and the group at the right. There is certainly a narrative suggestion concerning isolation and exclusion between the separate groups. They occupy an undisclosed autumnal landscape and, by the use of largely monochromatic colouring and handling of the pigment, Vaughan marries the figures with the setting. The treatment is highly worked and texturally varied and great pains have been taken to build up the pictorial surface with rich impastos and carefully calculated brushwork. The result produces both an expressive ‘skin’ to the figures as well as a fleshy, tactile effect to the overall painting.
By now Vaughan had begun to distill anatomical parts down to simplified shapes and enclosed, formal profiles. This amalgamation of individual bodies into a single, conglomeration of forms was a pictorial device that Vaughan was developing from around 1960, using a wet-in-wet technique. The melding of limbs and torsos into a cohesive unity was extensively explored in several major figure paintings, completed in the same year, including Seventh Assembly of Figure (Nile Group) and Eighth Assembly of Figures. The year before Vaughan painted Red Figures he explained his technical approach:
I usually set a colour and tonal key first of all. That is to say, put down areas of tones and colours without any particular reference to the figuration into which they are going to develop, but I distribute them over the canvas to interrupt its whiteness and set up a field of activity. Then, having got these landmarks or footholds as it were, I let them develop according to what seems to be their potential energy or structure. This results in an all-over design of broken, dispersed forms which begin to assemble, according to their colour, into areas of mass or space. The problem is being to find an image which has a certain mystery and ambiguity of reference yet with complete formal authority as to its presence. I have been doing a lot of small panels about 17” x 16”, of the size that you can completely comprehend at arm’s length. By that I mean you can see the whole area and its component parts without having to move away from it. These I have started on tacky liquid ground of a particular colour…and then painted it while still wet, which is a very exciting technical activity because it allows great tactile sensitiveness and a very rapid development of forms…I don’t think many painters employ it today, but it is a perfectly orthodox oil painting technique. The whole technique of painting wet in wet in Rubens time was a highly involved and very intricate sort of training. What it means is that each time you touch the canvas with the brush, so you alter the value and the colour of the part you are painting…you alter the mark, you alter the form, you alter the colour and you alter the value. It’s very exhilarating but I find it is only possible to do it at the moment on a small scale. (Unpublished interview with Dr. Tony Carter, 1963)
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