David Castillo presents Chapel Paintings, an exhibition of highly textured abstractions by Vaughn Spann. This is the artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery.
Chapel Paintings inaugurates a new body of deeply personal works which reflect Spann’s meditations on the contemporary moment; a time lived under the shadow of racial injustice and inequality, widespread pandemic, and irreconcilable political division.
Death and its accompanying conditions of mourning and violence are at the heart of these works; a thematic foundation that is articulated in a richly layered symbolic language. There is a reverential treatment of this subject matter in the fleshy, textured surfaces of these paintings which give way to their subjective and handmade quality. The exhibition context of these works, too, reinforces the solemn and respectful contemplation of the histories and narratives embedded within their painted surfaces: the works are installed high above the viewer’s eye line and require one to step forward, look up, and take in the work as if in an act of quiet, almost religious, veneration.
The titles of these paintings are each taken from texts or biblical passages which reference death, the body’s return to the earth, questions of divine judgment, and finding comfort after the death of a loved one. The red, white, and black paintings are named for lines from the Song of Solomon, the Book of Acts, and the Book of Ecclesiastes, respectively; while the blue painting is titled after a line spoken by Founding Father John Adams in 1776, where he affirms his support for the project of America’s independence in the days prior to the signing of the Declaration: “All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it.” Spann traces a direct lineage between religious belief, death, and the founding of this country, questioning whether the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were ever intended to be endowed to all peoples living in America.
The symbolism of the painting’s dominant colors—red, white and blue, and black—reinforces a connection to entrenched national discourses around the social, cultural, and political realities of race. These associations run the course of the country’s history, from a time prior to its founding through the present day, and are inextricable from the imaginary and identity of this nation. There is, too, a cardinal, elemental quality—air, earth, fire, and water—to Spann’s choice of colors, which further serves to universalize the works’ message beyond any specific national context; ultimately, everyone is impacted by death and the conditions of this time in history.
Each of the paintings is inset with an oculus—a common element of church architecture—which in this body of work alludes to a tearful eye, a weeping wound, or a window pointing towards a place beyond; be that place a reference to an afterlife or to a life after the violent and uneasy circumstances of this age.
Chapel Paintings offers a moment of introspection and inward reflection to ruminate over the sacrifices, injustices, and losses of the last year. The paintings themselves bear trauma but also the promise of relief.
Vaughn Spann was born in Florida (1992) and lives and works in New Jersey. He received his BFA from Rutgers University (2014) and his MFA from Yale University (2018). Spann’s work has been exhibited at the PAMM, Newark Museum, Reginald Lewis Museum in Baltimore, and the Rubell Museum (Miami). Upcoming exhibitions include the High Museum in Atlanta. Recent press includes artnet, Blouin Artinfo, ARTnews, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Galerie Magazine, Vice, and W Magazine. Spann’s works are in major contemporary art collections such as de la Cruz Collection, ICA Miami, PAMM, High Museum, Rubell Museum, UBS among many others.