Michelle Vaughan, a letterpress artist and illustrator who lives in Garrison, explains the origin of one of her more assertive works, which reads: “I Know Things, and You’re Wrong.”
It came from an interaction her husband, journalist Felix Salmon, had with a fellow journalist. But “each person who looks at it is going to think, ‘I can relate to that,’ because of these things that have nothing to do with the origin story,” Vaughan says. “That’s the idea. There’s always different ways to be able to look at the text.”
Vaughan’s work is designed to document history through art. “Once you make something into art, it can have a lot of power,” she says. “That’s super important to me as an artist. That’s a huge part of why I make my work.”
Her projects, in a range of media, cover topics such as art history, politics and social issues. Her collection, A Movement of Women, features portraits of prominent conservative women from the past century, while Murdoch is a series of infamous Twitter posts by the media mogul Rupert Murdoch letterpressed onto note cards. (The letterpress process involves painting from a raised, inked surface.)
In Generations I, she examines two centuries of intermarrying in the Habsburg dynasty. “As the family married first cousins, uncles and nieces from Austria and Spain, their offspring all began to look the same and were getting closer to homozygosity,” she writes in her notes about the project. She collected online images and overlaid them digitally, which can be seen at her website at michellevaughan.net. “The Habsburgs were on genetic repeat and overlap, so I pushed this concept in making new images.”
She expanded on the concept in Generations II and Generations III.
From 2007 to 2009 she researched two centuries of piracy for a collection called Sea Warriors. After spending several years accompanying her husband to the World Economic Forum (aka Davos), in 2015 she made a series of pencil drawings “of people next to me or those I talked to inside panel discussions, dinners and cocktail parties.”
Vaughan also creates lighter work, such as a collection of 100 letterpressed tweets by people she follows that she collected in 2011 as a distraction. The tweets are biting, nonsensical and/or entertaining and include the metadata to show their origin. Vaughan remembers thinking: “‘This could be a really fun project.’ So I turned it into one.”
Vaughan grew up in Southern California surrounded by the modernist paintings of her grandfather, David A. Vaughan. “Once my parents realized I was fixated on art they brought me to museums in Los Angeles, an hour north of where we lived,” she has said. She studied fine art at UCLA and, after graduating, moved to New York City in the late 1990s.
She became a full-time artist in 2008 and began to show her work more. “Having that focus helped me zero in on what I wanted, and I got it,” she says. “I was able to start showing at a gallery in the city and eventually in Spain, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Her method of collecting information for her projects rivals that of a historian.
“Sometimes it’s about setting the record straight, but I’m also interested in unpacking it and creating uncomfortable spaces so that the person who’s looking at it can contemplate something a little differently from their own point of view,” she explains. “If I’ve done that, I’ve been successful.”