Lex Vaughn: A Chat on Second City and Saskatchewan
As frigid winter weather descends on most of the country this month, many Canadians are stocking up on food and finding innovative ways to stay entertained at home. This week in Saskatoon, a different type of creative, durational hibernation begins in the city’s AKA Gallery when Toronto-based artist and performer Lex Vaughn’s “geriatric dandy” alter ego, Peanut Brittle, takes up residence, transforming the space into a bachelor’s apartment–cum–radio station for a series of performances exploring bygone masculinities. In this email interview, Vaughn reflects on the origins of her character, the challenges of long-form performance and the enduring appeal of nostalgia in the frenetic pace of modern life.
Gabrielle Moser: What can you tell me about how the character Peanut Brittle first developed? What were your main inspirations for the performance?
Lex Vaughn: The Peanut Brittle character got dragged out of bed by my pal Jeremy Charles Singer, who heads the band Hank in Toronto. He was doing a daytime show and wanted me to do a monologue in character as a drifter. I went through my closet and found my best dandy-on-the-skids wears, which included a pair of those oversized sunglasses old people wear when they get their eyes dilated, a leather patched sweater, flooded polyester pants, white buckled shoes, bad posture and an ascot. When I walked into the room, a friend said, “Hey, everybody, it’s Uncle Peanut Brittle!”
At that same time, I was in pre-production for a solo show at Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, which was based on my preoccupation with stylish old men. I had proposed to create the living quarters of such a man, filled with paintings of other similar gents who were inspired by the amblers that troll the streets, killing time before they go back to their weekly hotels. As the work was being produced, it started coming through the newly formed Peanut Brittle. During the installation of the apartment, it became apparent that Peanut would exist in the exhibition as an active representative of the lives that inspired it.
GM: In the past, you have worked as a performer in film and theatre and as a comedian with Toronto’s Second City improv company. How do ideas of humour or slapstick fit into your work as a visual artist?
LV: All of the work that I do as a performer or a visual artist is derived from getting a laugh and evoking pathos, which is basically what successful slapstick does, for me at least. I love the sap, the underdog, the rube. While making work with Allyson Mitchell in our former collective, Bucky and Fluff’s Craft Factory, we based our crafts on novelty gags and flea-market finds and told stories through them. All the work was super-cheap and sold in carnival-like environments. Within my solo work, those same things are always in play. Slapstick is immediate and reactive and ridiculous, and those are the qualities of how I like to exist in my personal life as well.