Barbara Vaughn

Barbara Vaughn - LIMANI

Artist Statement

This series of photographs marries my love of water and my passion for abstraction.
The images spring from an unexpected confluence of nature and the man-made world, and depict water's ability to reflect and transform the appearance of objects in and around it. When the sun, sky, and wind align to create the perfect conditions, the undulation of water alters reflections of easily identifiable scenes and entities, and creates unrecognizable abstractions.

Picasso proclaimed, "There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality." In these photographs, nature itself removes the "reality" from the images, using distortion caused by the swell and motion of water. If water is completely still, it becomes a mirror, presenting a perfect reflection of reality, and an absence of abstraction.

These abstract reflections are not readily discernible "in situ," because it's not possible for the human eye to capture and freeze motion. However, this is a rudimentary function of most cameras. Because of the speed of the water movement and the fleeting nature of these reflections, there is a large degree of unpredictability, a small degree of control, and a great amount of patience required to find the perfect conditions to "remove all traces of reality."



B A R B A R A  V A U G H N      A R T I S T  B I O      

B O R N        1960, Philadelphia, PA. Currently resides in New York, NY, and San Francisco, CA.

Princeton University, BA, Romance Languages & Literatures, 1982
International Center of Photography, New York City, 1991-1993

S E L E C T E D  S O L O  &  G R O U P  E X H I B I T I O N S

2016   "WATER | BODIES”   Curated by Eric Fischl and David Kratz (President of the NY Academy of Art).  Southampton Art Center, Southampton, NY

2015   Ifasma, Friesen Gallery, Sun Valley, ID 

2015   Optasia, Quogue Gallery, Quogue, NY

2015   On the Surface, Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco, CA

2014   Waterscapes, Quogue Gallery, Quogue, NY

2013   Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco, CA

2013   Swell, Friesen Gallery, Sun Valley, ID

2011   Uncovered, Eden Rock Gallery, St. Barths

2007   Mondo Incognito, Palette Art, Healdsburg, CA

2000   State of Undress, 45 Bleeker Gallery, New York City

2000   Bare Stories, Taranto Gallery, New York City

2006   American Beauty, Benefit Auction, International Center of Photography, New York City

1996-2010   Take Home a Nude, Benefit Auction, New York Academy of Art, New York City

S E L E C T E D  P U B L I S H E D  W O R K S
Kinetic: Highlights from the Polsinelli Art Collection, Barbara O'Brien, 2015
Tory Burch: In Color, Abrams Books, 2014
Places to Go, People to See, Kate Spade, Harry N. Abrams, 2014
Interior Portraits, Victoria Hagan, Rizzoli, 2010
Mark Mennin, Dore Ashton, Éditions Enrico Navarra, 2007
Roy Lichtenstein: Sculpture, Gagosian Gallery, 2005
Growing Up Guggenheim: A Personal History of a Family Enterprise, Peter Lawson-Johnston, ISI Books, 2005
Trump: The Art of the Comeback, Times Books, 1997
L’art à la Plage, Éditions Enrico Navarra, 1997
Sensory Archives, Jorge Semprun, Galerie Thomas von Lintel, 1993
“Love’s Labour’s Won,” Vogue, February 2010
"An Empire of Her Own," Vanity Fair, February 2007
"On the Town," Town & Country, March 2005
"Stone Interviews," Sculpture, 1997
Letter from the Editor, Allure, May 1999
Perrier-Jouet print campaign, 2001
Kodak Professional print advertisement, 1998


"On the Surface," American Art Collector, May 2015
"Photographer Barbara Vaughn Inspired by Water," San Francisco Chronicle, May 2013
“Frame by Frame,” Vogue Greece, September 2012
“How Other Women See Your Body,” Marie Claire, March 2006
Nerve/The New Nude, Chronicle Books, 2000
“Forever Young,” Avenue, November 2000
“Nude Awakenings,” Allure, June 1998

News and Press

The Weekly Sun, December 2015


"On the Surface," American Art Collector, May 2015





By Frances Malcolm
June 30, 2014
Several years ago, having gained recognition for her extensive series of nudes in nature and portraiture work, Vaughn became increasingly eager to create images that moved beyond the confines of representational photography.  She found her inspiration in 2007 when she observed highly stylized reflections dancing across the port waters of Greece. The photographs in this exhibition—which harness nature to realize abstraction—were taken in locations as diverse as the Greek islands, Venice, Italy, the coast of southern California, and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to Florida.

Water has been repeatedly examined by artists working across history and media. Photographic works of note include Ansel Adams’s brooding waterfalls and rocky coasts, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s wide-angle ocean horizons, David Hockney’s studies of swimming pools, and Richard Misrach’s aerial shorelines, among others. Vaughn’s tightly framed, space-collapsing photographs contribute to this time-honored tradition while also advancing it in new directions.

Unlike other depictions of water, Vaughn’s are completely devoid of contextual cues such as beaches, swimmers, fish, or boats. Furthermore, the split-second photographic frames do not contain enough visual information for the viewer to fully identify the settings and subjects. Instead of rationally meditating on a recognizable scene, the viewer is allowed to focus on swirling lines of electric energy, rhythmic gestures, and graphic undulations. The photographs consequently accomplish what the great abstract painters of the 20th century sought to achieve.

One of Vaughn’s hallmarks as an artist is how she utilizes light to bring her subjects to life in new and unexpected ways. Such handling places her work alongside that of Edward Weston and Aaron Siskind, forefathers of photographic abstraction, who prioritized light’s transformative ability in their attempts to move away from realism and figuration.

Though Vaughn’s photographs, like Weston’s and Siskind’s, are of specific locations, the specificity of these settings is superseded by the resulting images’ formal and affective impact. By presenting recalibrated realities, Vaughn invites a level of close examination, engagement, and interpretation that challenges viewers to pay closer attention to what they see, think, and feel.


Barbara Vaughn Interview

1. What does “being creative” mean to you?

I’ve never felt that I was unusually creative. I am a documenter of people, places, and things, and for me, “documenting” has always seemed to be one rung below creating work from raw materials. My subject matter is there in front of me, and I capture it in pixels or on film in a fraction of a second, using some type of photographic apparatus. I am in awe of painters and sculptors; the Abstract Expressionists in particular were an inspiration for this series. While I feel that there is ample creativity in the artistic decisions I make producing my work, in my next life, I want to get my hands dirty in a studio.

2. What is your biggest challenge in creating your work?

For this series, creating a successful image requires the confluence of perfect conditions in nature – wind, light, and tides - while I’m in a perfect location - a port or marina with interesting subject matter. But even when the stars align, other unexpected challenges arise: floating debris, boat traffic, fishermen, ducks, geese and seagulls floating by - even a women’s crew team rowed through a shot. My next show could be “Bloopers”.

3. What is the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?

Excerpt from an email I received after the opening of my last show:

Until one stands in front of the digital blow-ups you have captured through the camera's eye, the full effect of walking up to another one of nature's daily servings is shortchanged by any 8.5 X 11 replication. It’s like the difference between holding a stuffed animal and standing next to an elephant. – Peter Rudolphi

4. Who are two of your favorite artists working in the same medium as you?

Adreas Gursky and Gerhard Richter

5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

In a post-college career quandary, a friend suggested that what I was meant to do with my life was most likely right under my nose – something so close to me, such a part of me, that I couldn’t see it… something so innate and enjoyable that it wouldn’t feel like “work”. For me, that was photography

6. What is your dream project?

I’m doing it!

7. Do you have a Bucket List?

Yes - at the top of the list is finishing the Seven Great Train Rides of the World. I have two left – the Trans-Siberian Railway (Moscow to Vladivostok), and India’s Palace on Wheels (Delhi to Rajasthan).

8. Describe yourself in 5 words.

Pragmatic, personable, positive, particular, punctually challenged


Review: San Francisco Chronicle, May 2013

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