Socialist Worker

From punk to Trump—a compelling introspective

Gee Vaucher’s extensive body of work spanning 50 years reveals one of the best and most political collage artists of the century, writes?Jeff Jackson

Issue No. 2536

Oh America by Gee Vaucher

Oh America by Gee Vaucher


This exhibition is quite simply compelling—as insightful as is it questioning, as intensive as it is humorous.

It encompasses examples of Gee Vaucher’s artistic output over the last 50 years. By doing so it takes you into the world of a compassionate, angry, articulate and above all intensely ­skilful and accomplished artist.

It is not an overestimate to put her collage work on a par with some of the best collage artists of the last 100 years.

Looking at her work you think of German artists such as Hannah Hoch and John Heartfield, or the work of British artists such as Richard Hamilton or Leon Kuhn.

And indeed, like all good artists, she has studied the work of those who went before.

But Vaucher crucially reinvents and reshapes style and technique to create her own unique voice.

Her paintings on show here are dominated by the 2006 series Portraits of Children Who Have Seen Too Much, Too Soon which are both exquisite and yet disturbing. They show an artist in full control of the medium that they are working in.

And yet on leaving them it is not the brilliance of the technique employed in creating them that stays with you.

It is the disturbing, off the canvas scene that the viewer cannot see.

It’s what the child is seeing or has seen that haunts your thoughts.

The examples of her work with the punk anarchist band Crass are some of the most original, angry and ­provocative artistic expressions that the punk explosion had.

They bristle with a dismissive energy of those who run this rotten society.

Charade

They put two fingers up and say boldly to our rulers that we have seen through your charade and we are not taking it any more. Space curtails developing detail of her book work and installations.

But as with the other mediums Vaucher works in they are both consummate in execution and thought provoking in subject.

Why then have most of us not heard or knowingly seen Gee Vaucher’s work and what makes it so rewarding to view?

The answer to the first question lies somewhere in the fact that Vaucher has not sought fame and ­fortune as an artist.

Her work seems to be not just her own private practice, but a ­contribution to the society she ­inhabits and lives.

And it would be questionable that those who dominate the commercial art galleries and museum spaces would care much for its content.

To answer the second question we should look at how Vaucher ­combines her commitment to her art practice with her masterful control of the medium she chooses to work with.

She is constantly learning and mastering technique and tools for her artistic output alongside her powerful vision of the world.

Vaucher studied at South East Sussex Art College in the early 1960s.

She wrote of the time, “In those days working class people didn’t really go to college. We were seen as factory fodder. The school I went to didn’t even have any exams.”

Luckily on Vaucher’s trip to the Yardley’s cosmetic factory in Stratford, where she was destined to work, she saw great open vats of eye shadow colour and lipstick.

It made her more determined to go to art school.

In words perhaps akin to her Crass work, thank fuck for that.

Gee Vaucher—Introspective. Firstsite Gallery, Colchester. Until 19 February

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