Vaughan Grylls Home

I first made sculpture at art school - Wolverhampton, Goldsmiths' and the Slade - and then started making photographs while visiting the Royal College of Art.

Ever since 1964, when I made my first sculpture called Ku Klux Klan, I've been interested in the relationship between an art work and its title. Most artists make a work first and entitle it second. However, I have always worked the other way round. In 1967, in What's in a Name?, I began incorporating words into my sculptures. This was helped by making the sculptures white and the words black. From 1968, with Ludwig Wittgenstein's Palace of Pun, I started calling my works "pun-sculptures".

In 1969, I decided to have my pun-sculptures photographed. The white-coated photographer, who came to do this, used a large plate camera. He told me that usually he took photographs for certain departments at University College London such as the Medical School and the Egyptology Department. However, he had not been asked to take photographs at the College's Fine Art department - the Slade School - before.

His results were astonishing - large, glossy, black and white photographs. They looked a lot better than my sculptures. I wish I could remember this photographer's name.

I then decided to make pun-sculptures just to be photographed. But first I had to find out how to take photographs myself and print them properly. In those days, the Slade was far too snooty to regard photography as a serious art form, so they did not teach it as such. I then made an important decision. I decided to attend, illegitimately, the Photography department of the Royal College of Art. I was helped in this endeavour by theatre designer, Gillian Daniell, then an RCA student and later to become my first wife. Luckily for me, the RCA did not know a lot about who their legitimate students were and who were not. But they did know a lot about technical issues and about teaching photography as art.

Until 1974, I made nothing but photographically-based pun-sculptures. The last one was Drawing a Lesson from History. In 1973 I met Nicholas Wegner who had set up a spoof gallery with invented artists. I was very impressed with this idea. Although not an invented artist myself, I liked the frisson of showing my work in Nicholas's gallery, so I asked him if I could do so. He agreed and, later that year, I showed An Indo-Chinese Pun-Sculpture. He then invited me to join his gallery as co-director. We both saw the value of showing "display exhibitions". This idea came from my first visit to New York. There I saw the Kodak Galleries, where huge attention had been paid to presentation techniques and no attention had been paid to content or attribution. So the idea for our gallery in London was to dispense with artists altogether, invented or not. I suppose, for me, displays, were a development of my pun-sculptures. Until 1975, we collaborated in running The Gallery London - the gallery with no artists. We felt scurrilously free of the career art world. I loved it.

In 1977 my father died. Not consciously, my work took a more serious tone and I also developed a new technique. This started when I was trying to make a sculpture of the Hagia Sophia Instanbul . I attempted to photograph the whole of the interior of the building in its complexity and present it as a three-dimensional photographic mosaic. I used a 35mm camera with a telephoto lens on a tripod and took one photograph at a time. The camera was set up in the centre of the church and swept through 360 degrees. When I laid the whole thing out flat on my studio floor, I tried unsuccessfully to figure out how to make it three-dimensional. It then occurred to me that it was better left flat as you could see the whole interior at a glance.

From this time, I began to travel and photograph all over the world and to make big panoramas of joined photographs, usually with political and historical themes, such as Site of the Assassination of President Kennedy. I started showing them, and selling them and the art critics started writing about my work. I never claimed the technique I had developed was original. After all, one of the first, a joined panorama of Paris, had been made in the 1840s. In the early 1970s, the Netherlands artist, Jan Dibbetts, whose work I admired, had made "Dutch mountains" out of joined photographs. So imagine my surprise, when in 1982, the English pop artist, David Hockney, announced to the world that he had invented, "joiners", a new way of seeing! Because he was already a celebrity, the main-stream press believed him. Some years later, I learnt that Hockney had visited my first one-person show in London in January 1981.

In 1984, I moved to America. I found it difficult to make good work in that country. Although America was easily the most powerful country and culture in the world, it felt extraordinarily parochial when one was living there. I had to make a conscious effort to find out what was going on, or had gone on, in the rest of the world. Local news was more important than state news, state news more important than national news and national news more important than international news. So it was tough for me as I often got my ideas from international political and historical events. However, I did have a splendid, purpose-designed studio built for me in Massachusetts and I did get free travel to China & Tibet and to the Soviet Union where I sourced several works. I'm glad I was in America in the 1980s because I did make some works about the country, such as Invitation to the Ball, which I would not have made, had I remained in England.

From 1996 to 2005 I was the director of an international art school - Kent Institute of Art & Design. It had 3000 students. In 2003 I thought of merging this school with the Surrey Institute of Art & Design to create an international art university of 6500 students. This was achieved in 2005 and it is now called the University for the Creative Arts. With this accomplished I decided to return full-time to my own work.

Since 1997, I have been using computerised techniques. Yet I still use the same approach to my work: I get an idea, think of the title and then make the work. So not much has changed since 1964.
Vaughan Grylls

About Vaughan Grylls

Born 10th December 1943 in Newark, Nottinghamshire and attended art schools at Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Goldsmiths' and the Slade. He has taught at several art schools in the UK and the US.

From 1996 to 2005 he was Director of the Kent Institute of Art and Design. In 2005 he resigned to concentrate full-time on his own work after joining the Kent and the Surrey Institutes of Art and Design to make the University for the Creative Arts.

″I still use the same approach to my work: I get an idea, think of the title and then make the work. So not much has changed since 1964″

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