Obituary: Jenny Vaughan, a brilliantly talented and innovative artist
ARTIST Jenny Vaughan, who passed away on April 18, Easter Monday, left an impressive, innovative and important body of work that the vast majority of people will recognize, but not know by name.
Visit Glasgow’s Princes Square, The House for the Art Lover or the famous Mackintosh Tea Room in Sauchiehall’s Street and you won’t miss seeing Jenny’s art. But she has also been involved in murals all over the UK, from Devon’s Seal Sanctuary to Gatehouse of Fleet, New Lanark and Lochwinnoch Visitor Centres, Crieff Hydro, many Scottish bars, hotels and Indian restaurants, private clients to London, America and Japan – and, in the 1970s, nightclubs in London. But like much in the field of public art, his contributions remain anonymous, unacknowledged.
Jenny was also a pioneer, both socially and technically. In the 1970s she started a Lewis-based knitwear business, while in the 1990s she developed a new way to make iconic gesso panels.
She was born Jennifer Campbell in 1944 to Scottish parents in Bangalore, India. His father was an officer in the Indian army. From childhood she decided to be an artist, first studying at the Harrogate School of Art, then turning down an offer from London St Martin in favor of the art and design course at Sunderland Art School. Devoted, relentless, prolific, she was also superbly skilled and adept in any technical process.
His creative spirit tackled all mediums. As a student, she made hats and sold them at Liberty’s. Excelling in mathematics, she was lately working on color theory abstractions, saying: “A love of color underlies all my work. It holds an irresistible and insatiable attraction. Many of my paintings are simply a patchwork of colors complementary and discordant – an indulgence and pure joy in the manipulation of pigment.
An unstoppable workaholic, she loved her job. Her daughter Lucy says, “Mom never slowed down because she loved doing every project, every task, every challenge. All her life she loved creating art.”
After college, Jenny turned to the bohemian hotspot of St Ives in Cornwall, centered on key figures like Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost and Patrick Heron, and where she met and married Dai Vaughan. The couple exhibited at the influential Penwith Gallery and were given a studio space by Porthmeor Arts Council next door to Heron, who even consulted Jenny on color.
This was followed by their first business, Magic Murals, working with bands and DJs, decorating nightclubs with movement and pattern, culminating inside and outside the Bumpers Discotheque in Piccadilly, the largest dance hall from Europe at the time. The Vaughans were already in high demand.
Marrying Dai was creatively fundamental. Its website (www.jennyvaughan.co.uk) states: “Since 1968 all work done in partnership with Dai Vaughan.” Dai, who was also a poet, was superb in public relations. Jenny was very involved. Friends joke that Dai would sell the job, but then Jenny would have to figure out how to do it.
Their 54-year collaboration is unique, culminating in 2018 with the extraordinary, demanding and breathtaking gesso work for the centerpiece of the magnificent Salon de Luxe at the newly refurbished Mackintosh Willow Tea Rooms.
But before Glasgow came a Celtic adventure. In 1973, with two young children, the couple moved to the Isle of Lewis where they lived a self-sufficient life, with cows and chickens, while restoring their 1829 Thomas Telford parsonage. television in a Home Makeover series.
Back then – before the fax, before the internet – they were pioneers, creating a cottage industry of Jenny Vaughan Knitwear, employing 20 local women and selling handmade garments in local Harris Tweed wool to boutiques in London , Canada and Germany. They were also founding members of An Lantair, Stornoway.
In 1985, in response to an advertisement in the Stornoway Gazette, they submitted design concepts for the Glasgow Garden Festival. When they also won the competition to be the lead artists for the new Princes Square shopping center they moved to Glasgow permanently.
Many projects followed, including George Square’s Christmas lights for the 1990 Culture City (the decorations lasted 26 years), Ken McCulloch’s Devonshire Gardens, and Balbir’s Ashoka and Shish Mahal restaurants. In 1990 they joined the Hugh Martin Partnership design team, expanding their orders to Newcastle, Cardiff, London, Austria and Japan.
Then came the seminal House for an Art Lover, a series of 24 gesso panels for the dining room, inspired by the work of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. The Vaughans turned down this job three times; but no one else could or wanted to tackle it. It took them three years, starting with original research into Margaret Mackintosh’s gesso technique. Jenny made the gesso herself. It was labor intensive and took a month to strain it, let it steep, develop. Then the support board warped. They tried all kinds, settling on a space-age honeycomb structure that was stable and used in spaceships.
Their last major commission was the stunning gesso panel centerpiece for the Salon de Luxe of the newly renovated Willow Tea Rooms, completed in 2018. It was a real triumph.
Whenever there was a little time between commissions, Jenny would work on her own paintings. She explained, “I love creating a sense of depth, investigating 3D illusions, and I find geometry to be the best vehicle for that. I’m currently working on a series of stereoscopic paintings with shapes floating past and in front of the picture plane. I find this effect quite soothing and meditative.
She and Dai loved hiking and traveled extensively, through India, Nepal and Morocco. Right now they should be in Greece. Jenny was known for her generosity, calm and humor, as well as her totally delicious cooking.
She is survived by Dai, their children Lucy and Digby, grandchildren Vanya and Thurston, and her daughter, Tammy, from her first marriage.