Of all the work that I have carried out at Tate, my favourite collection to work on has been the Keith Vaughan material, which I spent 2008 reading and cataloguing. Vaughan started his career in advertising, but soon abandoned this path to pursue one as a painter and teacher and through his work he formed part of the Neo-Romantic circle. His subject was the male form, often expressed in muted blue and brown tones. However he is as well known for his journals, which he kept throughout the majority of his life, as he is for his painting. The collection’s highlight is this set of 62 journals which Keith started to write in 1939 at 27, my own age. The majority of the time I had allocated to this project was spent reading all of these journals. They are an incredibly personal reaction to events that affected Vaughan for thirty eight years, containing his thoughts, not so much as you would expect about his art work, but more about his mental state, his depression and his sexual angst and desires. In one of his volumes, Vaughan writes “Why do I go on. 12.0. Bath is ready. Noone will ever read all this - but come to think of it they will - being who I am. And having executors… but I cannot write for them. I beg their pardon, but they need not read it. As the Vaughan project archivist I was in an odd position with regards to this statement, unlike the people he refers to here, I did have to read it, every page of all 62 journals. I find that the relationship between myself and Vaughan is difficult to describe, over the ten months I spent working on this material I became one of a handful of people to ever have read all of his words in depth, I met his friends and his fans and I lived his life with him through his journals. Even though I knew I’d never meet him, I honestly felt like he was a close friend by the time I reached the last journal. Vaughan’s last journal was started in 1975, just after he had been diagnosed with cancer. It is the painful description of a man who is suffering, who feels like he is no longer a complete person, and who eventually decides to commit suicide, an act which is the last entry to the journal. I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear after reading this, the death of someone who I had spent every day working with.
The phrase has it that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, however archive material is both literary and artistic.
Can you think of any example where words would be better than a picture?
Written by Allison Foster