Artist Spotlight: Vaughn Spann A Rising Star of Materiality and Abstraction


By Nicole Bray

When confronted with Vaughn Spann’s work there is an immediate intrigue into the compositional delicacies between the figurative and abstraction. Rich with textures, color and subject matter, he seeks to contribute to the dialogue of the black experience which was once written out of the Art History books. Historically, cultures have been valued on the perceived importance of their art, and there was once a time when no one believed in the value of work made by black artists. Contributing to this critical social and art historical narrative is a central intent and theme running through Spann’s work.

Physicality and materiality sit at the heart of his abstract works. Experimenting with twine, fabric, spray paint, oil paint, resin, plastilina, and paper, to name only a few, he creates luscious reliefs that combine painting as sculpture. Roused by the radical spirit of David Hammons and Shanique Smith, Spann takes objects of the everyday, readily found in hardware stores or at home, and transforms their meaning through context and the introduction of other materials.

The Conjuring
The Conjuring, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

Untitled, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

Static Shock
Static Shock, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

Siren, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

Influenced by his grandfather growing up, Spann spent his childhood learning the craft of working with his hands and becoming a maker. Always drawing and building things, this led him to pursue a Bachelors of Fine Arts at Rutgers (Newark), which eventually landed him in the prestigious Yale, Masters in Fine Art program. His surroundings have played a significant influence on his practice, growing up in Orange, New Jersey, living in Newark during college, and more recently in Harlem, has informed how he approaches the canvas. Using materials from the local environment, Spann seeks to expand the possibilities of composition, formalism, and the surface through the process of layering and building up.

Harpers Song
Harpers Song, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

White Light
White Light, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

Zanzibar Blue
Zanzibar Blue, 2017-2018, 90 x 84 in

The technique of layering and building up of the surface, expanding or contracting the composition, appears across both Spann’s abstractions and figurative work. In his figurative and landscape work, the rich and vibrant colors draw on the African diaspora, while his abstracts are composed of found materials, reliefs, and dimensionality. Spann often works on paper as well, sometimes considered a secondary material, but one of both delicacy and strength. Expanding the surface and experimenting with the possibilities of paper in a multitude of ways.

This past November, Spann participated in, San Francisco veteran, Karen Jenkins-Johnson’s project space in Brooklyn. who is deftly committed to promoting emerging African American artists and curators. More recently, Spann curated and is featured in the show Kaleidoscope at Kravets Wehby Gallery in Chelsea, on view until February 17th.

Vaughn Spann, 2017

For inquiries about Vaughn’s work please contact

– Nicole Bray, Contemporary Art Consultant |

artREAL contributor Nicole Bray is the founder of Mercer Contemporary and guides private and corporate clients through each step of acquiring, selling, managing, and displaying artwork. She received her Masters in Contemporary Art (Hons.) from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York. She was the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Emerging Curator Fellowship 2015, and has worked at both an Auction House and for a distinguished private family. If you would like to contact Nicole, or if you are interested in starting your own collection, please email her at or visit

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