Born in 1976 in Jackson, Oregon, USA
Lives and works in Los Angeles, USA
For L.A.-based painter Sage Vaughn’s, art offers an endless way to explore the borders between humanity and the wild world. “To me that line between nature and city life is always ebbing and flowing, with the two forces constantly influencing each other,” says Vaughn, whose dreamy yet disquieting paintings frequently feature members of the animal kingdom as their subjects. “You see it in coyotes running out onto the freeway and grass growing out of pavement—it’s this continual push-and-pull that echoes a conflict within us, the collision between our own feral side and the need to control ourselves so we can exist as part of civilization.”
Working out of his Pasadena studio but traveling to Malibu nearly every morning to surf, Vaughn says he’s perpetually preoccupied by the glimpses of nature he encounters while roaming around L.A. “Sometimes a painting begins with those observations, something like seeing a hawk perched on the top of a lamp over the freeway,” he says. “It might not lead to my painting that moment itself, but it gets me thinking about those sorts of juxtapositions.”
Born in Oregon but raised in the San Fernando Valley, Vaughn first learned to draw with the help of his father, a commercial artist for Disney. “That’s how my dad and I hung out—, we made art,” he says. Despite his penchant for drawing and painting—Vaughn decided to forgo pursuing a career in art in favor of studying to become a doctor. But after years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Vaughn dropped out and returned to Los Angeles to work construction while honing his painting style in a makeshift studio in a friend’s garage.
Vaughn teamed up with his grandmother for his debut exhibition at a community center in the Valley, then soon began landing shows at local galleries. “My paintings started selling enough to pay my rent,” he says. “Growing up, I’d always thought you had to die before you could make any money off your art, or at least wear black turtlenecks and berets all the time.” Within the next few years Vaughn was showing in New York City and San Francisco and—by 2005—featured in both group and solo exhibitions at Galerie Bertrand & Gruner in Geneva, Lazarides in London, Art Agents Gallery in Germany, and ArtBrussels in Belgium.
Vaughn notes that the city’s smog-softened light and color palette have heavily influenced his aesthetic. “The haziness of the light in Los Angeles is so unique, and the particulate matter in the air has a huge impact on the way we see distance,” he says. “I think that really comes through in my paintings, and I think my color choices are extremely Southern Californian.” At the same time, Vaughn acknowledges that spending his first few years in the more idyllic surroundings of Jackson, Oregon—where his family lived down the road from a commune populated by the ill-fated Rajneesh movement, —has helped to deepen his relationship with the animals and insects he’s so drawn to in his art. “I definitely relate to the wild things in the city more than I would if they didn’t remind me of something from the earliest years of my life,” he says.