Vaughan Grylls

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Vaughan Grylls is a British artist.

Early life[edit]

Born 10 December 1943, Newark-on-Trent. Attended art schools at Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Goldsmiths and the Slade School of Fine Art.


Vaughan Grylls was a developer of Conceptual art, in which the idea of a work of art, rather than its form, is the dominant principle. Grylls' particular contribution was the 'pun-sculpture': the meanings of these works –– as in the 'assisted ready-mades' of Marcel Duchamp and the 'objects' of Man Ray –– derive from the interplay of the verbal and the visual.

At Goldsmiths' College in 1968, Grylls produced an exhibition of his first pun-sculptures, each made from cardboard and called collectively 'Ludwig Wittgenstein's Palace of Pun'. He took this with him to the Slade and continued to make more pun-sculptures. His work was noticed at his final show in 1970 by Jasia Reichardt, art critic and assistant director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). She offered Grylls his first gallery show in London. It was held at the ICA in October 1970 as one room in an exhibition entitled 'Ten Sitting Rooms'.[1] Works shown by Grylls at the ICA included 'A Case for Wittgenstein' (two white suitcases on one of which he had scrawled 'I brought this in Case' and on the other screened a photograph of the first case with 'A Case for Wittgenstein' by Vaughan Grylls' printed underneath in large black letters) and 'The Wittgenstein Lectern' (a black and white sculpture shaped as a lectern with a spoof linguistic philosophy question and answer examination paper scrawled on the top in black felt pen e.g. Question: Why are words used? Answer: Philosofreasons.

In October 1970 in The Sunday Telegraph, the art critic Michael Shepherd described Grylls works as having 'delicious verbal wit.' [2] In the October 1970 edition of Arts Review the art critic Peter Fuller observed that Vaughan Grylls' work was 'poker-faced'.[3] In November 1970 Grylls showed 'Headcase, Bookcase' at the Young Contemporaries which was held that year at the Royal Academy. Grylls' work consisted of a life-sized photograph of himself lying in front of a spoof library with punning titles written on the spines of the books. 'Headcase, Bookcase' was awarded the Marlborough Gallery Prize. The following year Vaughan Grylls set up a pun-sculpture in the form of a one-person exhibition at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery. In The Guardian, the art critic Caroline Tisdall described it as 'an exhibition of an exhibition' further explaining that it included ' some critical judgment – 2 clever x 1/2 – and mock philosophical asides "Deep down most people are shallow' '.[4] A visitor to the exhibition subsequently added in lipstick to that particular work, 'Well you should know'. This was not the first time the public had reacted to a Grylls pun-sculpture or used lipstick in doing so. In May 1970 a passer-by had torn off part of Grylls large work 'The Emperor's New Clothes' which was showing outside Euston Station as part of the Camden Festival. The object the passer-by removed could be seen as a leaf on one side, on which Grylls had written 'see overleaf' and a penis on the other. The passer-by left his name and address adding that he had vandalised Grylls work on the grounds of its decadence.'

In July 1970 Vaughan Grylls showed a large bed-shaped sculpture in Paternoster Square as part of the City of London Festival. It was chosen by Peter Fuller who was organising the Festival's art exhibition. The bed-head consisted of a photo enlargement of a sugary love-scene copied from the magazine 'Womans Own'. At one end of the 'bedspread', made from a white plasticated sheet of wood, Grylls had written 'A Woman's Own Eye View of the World' and on the other 'A Woman's Eye-Level View of the World'. This provoked several responses in lipstick from women. In the Summer of 1971 Vaughan Grylls showed several life-sized photographs throughout Alexandra Palace as his contribution to the exhibition 'Art Spectrum'. The photographs consisted of Grylls standing in front of other artists' submitted work. Some of the works Grylls photographed were subsequently rejected which meant that there were artists who found their work rejected from the show yet a life-sized photograph of their work included with Grylls standing pointing at it.

The Gallery 65a Lisson Street NW1[edit]

The Gallery had been set up in 1972 by fellow Slade graduate Nicholas Wegner (now sometimes known as Nick P. James or N. P. James). Before Grylls arrival, Wegner had been showing invented artists, a group of whom had been exhibited unwittingly at the ICA. Wegner invited Grylls to show at The Gallery. The work Grylls exhibited in 1973 entitled 'An Indo-Chinese Punsculpture' was a large photo-mural commenting on the signing of the so-called Paris Peace Treaty. Although a pun-sculpture it marked Grylls return to overtly political subject matter, something he had not undertaken since 1964, when as a student at Wolverhampton he had constructed a 2.5-metre high fibreglass sculpture Ku Klux Klan as a response to the 1964 racially-charged General Election in that city.

After showing 'An Indo-Chinese Pun-Sculpture', Grylls joined Nicholas Wegner as co-director of The Gallery. Together they travelled to the 7th Cologne Art Fair where Grylls photographed the commercial dealers operating in their temporary, standardised 'galleries'. On their return Wegner and Grylls transformed the layout of The Gallery into one exactly mirroring those at Cologne. The Gallery, at Grylls's suggestion, was renamed The Gallery London. This design was to remain unchanged for the rest of The Gallery/The Gallery London's operating life. Grylls and Wegner's first exhibition together consisted of a selection of the photographs taken at Cologne. Following this, 'Display exhibitions' were invented. These were based on a modular system of photo-stands and wall-based units. Subjects such as 'Drug Abuse in Maine', 'The Floods in Egypt', 'Mine', 'Contemporary Art', 'Belfast in Art and 'Photography Hasselblad' were shown. Thus The Gallery London replaced the invented artist with no artist. Grylls stated later in a radio interview with Anthea Lahr broadcast on ''WBAI New York that 'a bland corporate-style presentation, used for each and every show was inspired by my first visit to America in 1973 where I was impressed by The Kodak Galleries with their huge attention to presentation and none to content'. In 1974–75 Grylls and Wegner invited other artists to collaborate by showing their works in the presentation format of The Gallery London e.g. John Latham, Gerald Newman and Rita Donagh. Caroline Tisdall in The Guardian wrote of this period " The Gallery (65a Lisson Street NW1) continues its enterprising programme of processing and packaging. This has by now become the closest to a house style that any London gallery has."[5] The French art historian, Pierre Rouve, wrote in Arts Review "A minute, ascetic Gallery seems to have succeeded where majestic public institutions have sadly failed: to walk safely along the perilous tightrope stretched between percepts and concepts."[6] In May 1975 Grylls objected to Wegner hanging Rita Donagh's working drawing for The Gallery London's 'Rita Donagh' display next to the display itself and afterwards selling the drawing. In Grylls view these actions could be regarded as turning the enterprise into a conventional gallery. As the dispute could not be resolved satisfactorily, Grylls left The Gallery London. Wegner continued with Display exhibitions and other shows until 1978.

In 2006 The Centre of Attention re-presented a selection of radical galleries, publications and television shows covering the period 1956–2006 in a survey exhibition entitled 'Fast and Loose (my dead gallery)'. This was shown at the Fieldgate Gallery London at the same time as the Frieze Art Fair. The exhibition featured several enterprises from the period including the Indica Gallery, the Women's Art Library, Make, BANK and The Gallery. In 2007 in the art magazine Art on Paper, New York City, the art critic Sarah Andress wrote 'In one of two rooms dedicated to The Gallery (1972–1978) hung six large photographs of other galleries' booths at the 1973 Cologne Kunstmarkt. after which the Gallery's directors remodelled their space. A book of photographs of Frieze 2006 sat on a table in that room, a subtle reminder of how truly prescient the Gallery's project really was.'[7]


It is for his huge photo-collages on serious historical and political subjects that Grylls is perhaps best known. He attributed his change of emotional gear from pun-sculptures, to these works, to the death of his father in 1977. In 1978 he made 'Hagia Sophia Istanbul' . It was constructed from myriads of telephoto images joined together which revealed the whole interior of the building at one glance. Selected for exhibition by Nicholas Serota, at that time director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, it was shown that year at the 'Whitechapel Open.' Grylls followed this in 1979 with 'The Wailing Wall Jerusalem' in which a photograph was assigned to each ancient stone and then with the 8-metre wide 'In Flanders Fields, shown at the Whitechapel Open in 1980. In this, the grid of gravestones and the grid of Grylls' telephoto images physically correlate, while there is an implied philosophical correlation between the passing of time, which he has captured by taking the photographs over several hours, and his subject matter. Grylls approach to his photo-collages could be regarded as analogous to that of a film-maker.

In the British Journal of Photography of 5 February 1982, Grylls described his working method for his photo-collage 'Site of the Assassination of President Kennedy' (1980):

I studied the Warren Report on the assassination, in particular the photographs and plans of the assassination site. There was also the problem of the 'unknown assassin', not acknowledged in the Warren Commission's report, but nevertheless a crucial element in the construction of the piece. After making, as usual, a large number of drawings and sketches, I set off for Dallas. I had decided to position the camera in Dealey Plaza, on the south side of Elm Street, and not far from where Joseph Zapruder, the amateur movie-maker happened to be standing when the President's motorcade passed by and rifle shots were fired from a window in the top right hand corner of the Texas School Book Depository, a building I thought I could feature on the right hand side of my picture. Lee Harvey Oswald's bullets struck Kennedy at a point that would become the left centre of my picture, and it is believed that a second assassin struck from the left of this – an area referred to as the 'grassy knoll.' The motorcade then raced off towards the far left of my picture. I positioned the tripod at an angle so that the camera carrying a 300mm lens swung through an arc that followed the line of Oswald's bullets. Because an angle was set up from the right, another one was conversely set up from the left. This latter angle followed a line from the grassy knoll to where Kennedy sat in the back seat of his open-topped car with his wife Jackie, and the Governor of Texas. This line represented the line of the bullets fired by the assassin who escaped in the resulting confusion.[8]

In February 1983, in The Observer, the art critic William Feaver wrote about Grylls' large Arnolfini Gallery exhibition 'Views of our Time:

The sites Vaughan Grylls chooses for his elaborate photographic inspections are those where 'X' marked the spot. 'X ' for where the Führer stood, Oswald aimed, the boat exploded, the panic began. The inked cross that singles out one headstone among thousands in a war cemetery…. Sometimes with Grylls acting like a deranged bill-sticker, his basic grid-pattern is disturbed. Whole areas tilt sideways or fan out and extra details, fitted into the gaps, add a kaleidoscopic element to the confusion…. His 'Views of out Time' are news story, relocation and news-gathering recombined.[9]

The largest work Vaughan Grylls has made is his 24-metre-wide 'The Nuclear War Triptych' of 1981–82. The art historian and critic Brandon Taylor writing in the art journal Aspects in 1984 said '…by 1980 various events had taken place in world politics to make nuclear war the most urgent overall question in the international arena. It was against this awesome background that Grylls began a large three-part work which constitutes a meditation on this system of tensions and a wry comment on our human fallibility.' [10] The left panel of this work is called 'Nuclear War in the UK'. It was photographed at an England/Scotland Football match at Wembley. The right panel is called 'Nuclear War in the USA' and it was photographed at Disneyland, California. Of this panel, Grylls said in an article published by the Arnolfini Gallery in 1983 ' I found Disneyland at once cheerful and sinister…(there was) a jokey obsession with death, almost an attempt to exorcise it. I have tried to show people being swept into their own creation.'[11] The central panel is called 'Dachau Railway Station'. Brandon Taylor wrote in Aspects in 1984:

Completed in 1982, it shows modern day commuters waiting for trains beneath the signs which, to the rest of the world, can only signify the place where abysmal atrocities were once performed. Grylls pictures himself in the work (12th frame from the right) wearing the bemused expression of someone who finds that the horrific events of forty years ago have already been covered over by the sands of time.'[12]

In April 1983, Martin Holman described Grylls as 'an effective political artist who uses collage in much the same way as the collage-satirists of prewar Germany, but without such sardonic humour. He is unremittingly straight-faced throughout, in works that might appear quirky but are unfailingly compelling'.[13]

A 'Joiner' controversy[edit]

By 1982 David Hockney was also constructing pictures from several photographic images, declaring that he had invented what he dubbed 'joiner' photography thus discovering a new way of seeing, in particular the ability to include the passing of time in one static work. Grylls left England for America to accept an offer made by Williams College Massachusetts to set up and run a new department of Photography and Video. Comparison with Hockney would follow Grylls across the Atlantic for in reviewing a retrospective of Grylls' photo-collages at the Elvehjem Museum of Art, (now the Chazen Museum of Art) University of Wisconsin in 1985/6, the art critic Robert Silberman wrote in Art in America:

Grylls reveals a concern with public life that makes the murals function something like history painting. His public themes set Grylls's work off clearly from the photographic collages of David Hockney, whatever the superficial resemblance. Hockney, in playing Cubist with a camera, is more concerned with private, individual; experience, shying away from the larger social issues Grylls confronts.'[14]

Art School head[edit]

In 1989 Grylls was appointed Head of Art & Design at Wolverhampton Polytechnic[15] (later the University of Wolverhampton) and in 1996 he became director of the Kent Institute of Art & Design[16] In 2003, as government legislation then allowed it, Grylls proposed creating a new university of 6000+ students studying art, design, and architecture by merging the Kent Institute with the Surrey Institute of Art & Design to prevent these free-standing art colleges becoming absorbed into their local universities.[17] The merged institution was called the University College for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone & Rochester (since 2009 the University for the Creative Arts).[18][19] Just before the Kent Institute merged with the Surrey Institute in 2005, the University of Kent attempted to seize the Kent Institute's Architecture Department, an action Grylls had not foreseen and although successfully resisted, did not help Grylls' reputation as the Kent Institute's director. .[20][21] Grylls as founding Chief Executive of the merged institution[22] resigned soon afterwards, announcing that he intended to return full-time to his own work. In September 2008, in a letter to Art Monthly responding to an article published in the previous edition criticising the management of the new university since his departure, Grylls admitted to a dispute between himself and the institution in 2005 adding that the pressures of the merger had taken him away from his own work.[23]

Recent exhibitions[edit]

  • October 2006 – Group exhibition. Selected works from The Gallery in 'Fast and Loose (my dead gallery), Fieldgate Gallery London. Organised by the Centre of Attention. With Nicholas Wegner. (see section on The Gallery, 65a Lisson Street NW1)
  • April 2007 – Solo exhibition. Places that Shaped Today's Middle East. Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London
  • February 2009 – Solo exhibition. 'Mother'. Sadler's Wells[24]
  • November 2009 – Solo exhibition. Selected retrospective of Grylls's work from 1964 to 2009. Nomad Galleries, 55 St James's Street, London SW1
  • February 2010 – Solo exhibition. 'Down Under', Chelsea Arts Club, London. Six new works resulting from a round-the-world trip in 2009 plus 'Mother'
  • March 2010 – Solo exhibition. 'Mother', Lady Chapel, Rochester Cathedral
  • July 2010 – Group exhibition. This Could Happen to You – Ikon in the 1970s. Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. 1973 installation 'An Indo-Chinese Pun-Sculpture';[25]
  • July 2010 – Solo exhibition. 'A Case for Wittgenstein', Slade School of Fine Art. A re-staging of Vaughan Grylls' 1970 graduation exhibition of Pun-Sculptures where it was first shown.
  • May 2011 – Solo exhibition. 'Grandmother', The Piper Gallery, London. Autobiographical work consisting of a WW2 baby carriage and 1000 family photographs fashioned into a life-sized WW2 German bomber[26][27][28]
  • June – August 2012 – With Edward Allington. 'Then and Now', The Piper Gallery, London.
  • January 2013 'Heaven's Above', Landmark Art Centre

Public collections[edit]

Kwazulu Natal University, South Africa;[29] National Library of Wales;[30] Museum of Modern Art Library, New York;[31] National Museum of Media, Bradford;[32] Pfizer Research, Sandwich;[33] Polaroid, Boston;[34] Roehampton University, London;[35] Tate Gallery archives, London;[36] Unilever, London;[37] University of Greenwich, London;[38] The Open University, Milton Keynes;[39] Williams College Massachusetts.[40]


  1. ^ Reichardt, Jasia. "Ten Sitting Rooms". Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, October 1970
  2. ^ Shepherd, Michael. "The Sunday Telegraph",London, 11 October 1970
  3. ^ Fuller, Peter. "Arts Review", London, October 1970
  4. ^ Tisdall, Caroline. "The Guardian",London, 8 February 1971
  5. ^ Tisdall, Caroline. "The Guardian", London, 25 March 1975
  6. ^ Rouve, Pierre. "Arts Review" 7 February 1975
  7. ^ Andress, Sarah. "Art on Paper" New York, January 2007
  8. ^ Grylls, Vaughan. "British Journal of Photography", London, February 1981.
  9. ^ Feaver, William. "The Observer", London, 6 February 1983
  10. ^ Taylor, Brandon. "Aspects". Newcastle upon Tune. "Artists against Conflict: The Photomontages of Vaughan Grylls", Spring edition 1984
  11. ^ Grylls, Vaughan. "Views of Our Time". The Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, January 1983
  12. ^ Taylor, Brandon. "Aspects". Newcastle upon Tyne. "Artists against Conflict: The Photomontages of Vaughan Grylls", Spring edition 1984
  13. ^ Holman, Martin. "Artscribe" No. 40. London. April 1983
  14. ^ Silberman, Robert. Art in America. New York. March 1986.
  15. ^ Ogden, John, 'Weekend Star', "Express and Star", Wolverhampton, 7 October 1989
  16. ^ Editorial, "The Times Higher Education Supplement". London, 5 July 1996
  17. ^ Utley, Alison. "The Times Higher Education Supplement"London , 2 November 2000
  18. ^ Hodges, Lucy. "The Independent" London. 6 May 2004
  19. ^ Tysome, Tony. "The Times Higher Education Supplement". London, 7 May 2005
  20. ^ Jackson, Nick. 'Are you the next Richard Rogers?' "The Independent". London. 23 June 2005
  21. ^ Shepherd, Jessica. "The Times Higher Education Supplement" London 14 October 2005.
  22. ^ 'First ever students enrol', UCA News Archive 2 September 2005.
  23. ^ Grylls, Vaughan. Letter to the Editor, Art Monthly. London. September 2008.
  24. ^ Sumpter, Helen. 'In the Studio – Vaughan Grylls'. 'Time Out'. London. 12–18 February 2009.
  25. ^ Chapman, Simon. Watkins, Jonathan. Catalogue for 'This Could Happen to You – Ikon in the 1970s', 21 July – 5 September 2010. Ikon Gallery Birmingham 2010.
  26. ^ Gleadill, Colin. 'Market News'. 'The Daily Telegraph Tuesday, 3 May 2011
  27. ^ Piper, Megan. 'A Gallery for Riper Artists'. 'Night & Day Blog' ,'The Spectator' May 2011
  28. ^ 'Artist captures the moment his life was saved in war', 'Hackney Gazette, London' Thursday 5 May 2011
  29. ^ 'Voortrekker Monument with Site of Durban Street Murders' 1993. Kwazulu Natal University Collection, Durban, South Africa
  30. ^ 'Washington DC' 1973. Accession No: 662, Department of Collection Services, Framed Works of Art, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
  31. ^ Original artwork for 'This is not an Advertisement', Studio International, London 1971.
  32. ^ Polaroid collage of Bradford from the roof of the museum, 1984
  33. ^ 'Kentish Invasions' 1997. Committee room, Pfizer Research, Sandwich, Kent CT13 9NJ
  34. ^ 'Hadrian's Wall' 1984. Polaroid collage
  35. ^ 'Germany Today-Berlin Wall' 1983. Whitelands College, Roehampton University, Holybourne Avenue, London SW15 4JD
  36. ^ '7 Kolner Kunstmarkt', The London Gallery, Nicholas Wegner, Vaughan Grylls for Jam Press. PO 8011 on paper. Print
  37. ^ 'London Bridge' 1984. Cat.No. UCAC 119; 'Bank Holiday Monday- working study' 1984. Cat.No. UCAC 120; 'Britain Through the Looking Glass – working study 1984. Cat.No. UCAC 121; Archives, Unilever House, Blackfriars, London
  38. ^ 'Greenwich Mean Time' 1984/1999. Council Room, University of Greenwich, Park Row, Greenwich, London SE10 9LS
  39. ^ 'Bank Holiday Monday' 1984. Given by the Contemporary Art Society. Art at the OU. Accession No. 84/04; database ID 336
  40. ^ ' Team Spirit' 1988. Entrance Hall, Chandler Athletic Center, Williams College, Massachusetts

Further reading[edit]

  • Myfanwy Kitchin The Guardian London 27 February 1970
  • Vaughan Grylls 'A Case in Point', The Sunday Times London 28 March 1971
  • This is not an advertisement', Studio International London, Vol 182 no 935 July/August 1971
  • Vaughan Grylls, 'Benefitting from a Holiday', The Sunday Times London 29 August 1971
  • John A Walker, 'Contemporary Art, Flash Art Milan, nos 48/49 October/November 1974
  • 'Time, Words and the Camera' Exhibition catalogue edited by Jasia Reichardt and published by Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum Graz, Austria 1976
  • Vaughan Grylls, 'Artists Thoughts on the 70's in Words and Pictures'. Edited by Jasia Reichardt. Studio International, London, vol 195 no 991, 1981
  • Waldemar Januszczak, The Guardian 6 January 1981
  • Richard Cork, The Standard London 22 January 1981
  • Brandon Taylor, Introductory essay to 'The Panoramic Image'. Exhibition catalogue published by John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton 1981
  • 'Vaughan Grylls. Through the Looking Glass' . Exhibition catalogue with notes by the artist and an introductory essay by John Carlin. Published by the University of Wisconsin, Elvehjem Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin, November 1985
  • 'Vaughan Grylls. Wolverhampton Return' . Exhibition catalogue with notes by the artist and an introductory essay by Christopher Bailey. Published by Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Wolverhampton Polytechnic, September 1989
  • 'Vaughan Grylls.'White Man's Tales'. Exhibition catalogue with notes by the artist and an introductory essay by Professor Ann H Murray. Published by Wheaton College, Massachusetts, November 1994
  • Sacha Craddock. Essay accompanying 'Mother', Sadlers Wells Theatre, London, February 2009
  • Jasia Reichardt. Exhibition address for 'A Case for Wittgenstein', Slade School of Fine Art, 21 July 2010. See under 'Media'
  • James Putnam. Introductory essay to 'Then and Now'. Exhibition catalogue published by The Piper Gallery 2012
  • Jackie Wullschlager. Financial Times. 23/24 June 2012
  • Holly Williams. The Independent on Sunday. 29 July 2012
  • Huon Mallalieu. The Times. 5 January 2013
  • Nicholas Usherwood. Galleries. March 2013

External links[edit]