Sadie Frost's psychedelic artist father gets his due – with a little help from Ray Davies

Actor, her family and Kinks singer open retrospective show of David Vaughan's work featuring art saved by builder from the skip

There was bad feeling and a lot of distance between Sadie Frost and her mercurial father, the painter David Vaughan, for many years. A deeply troubled man, before his premature death he had become estranged from not just one family but three, and his influential career as a mural artist in the 1960s had been largely forgotten.

Now, a decade after his death, the families have come together to mark Vaughan's life and work with his first retrospective exhibition, thanks in part to the intervention of musician Ray Davies of the Kinks.

"After all our work to get the paintings together, this finally is some sort of closure for us all," said Frost, at the opening of the show in north London last Thursday. "It feels right to have done this for him. To show people all the work he made again."

Vaughan's colourful, psychedelic style remains familiar from many of the defining images of London in the Swinging Sixties. He and his fellow muralists Dudley Edwards and Douglas Binder painted the side of the trendy boutique Lord John in Carnaby Street and Paul McCartney's "magic" piano. They also painted the car that features on the front of The Kinks' compilation album Sunny Afternoon.

Davies, the frontman of the band, encouraged Frost to put on the exhibition when she told him that her father had painted the multi-coloured Buick on the album cover. He went on to co-curate the show and to offer it space in the community art gallery below Konk, his recording studio in Crouch End.

Speaking at the opening to Vaughan's assembled family and friends, Davies said: "The idea of the 1960s, the way it happened, was a cumulative thing. It wasn't about just the Beatles or the Kinks, it was about lots of people doing things differently, like David did. He made a real contribution and people should get to know this art, if they don't already."

The gallery, a small-scale local venue, was the right place for Vaughan's work, he said, because he had worked in that independent and unfussy way.

At the height of his powers Vaughan was painting murals, furniture and posters that were to become collectors' pieces, bought by Eric Clapton, Henry Moore, Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret, but he was not interested in the art market and he often devoted himself to community projects, creating murals in playgrounds and open public spaces.

"He really liked working with people and he would visit schools and social clubs, anywhere that need the work," said Frost. "It was the birth of the community mural. My dad hated celebrity and the whole business side of the art world."

Frost, a film and stage actress and clothes designer, has been working on a documentary about her father that follows his career from art school in Bradford to study at the Slade School in London, where, with Binder and Edwards, he set up a collective and became friends with David Bailey. The photographer took several portrait shots of her as a young girl.

"All my childhood I remember crawling around under canvases and seeing my dad's art all around me," said Frost, whose mother, Mary Davidson, was also at the opening. "At the end of his life his artwork was saved by a builder who cleared the house he was living in and it has been stored in a barn in the north-west for years. We are lucky it was not water-damaged."

Frost and her half-brothers by Vaughan's third wife, Anne, made a selection of important works for the show. "We had to just choose the stuff quickly, because there is so much of it. We wanted to show the main stages of his work."

At the opening, Rafferty Law – Frost's teenage son by ex-husband Jude Law – played songs with his band for a crowd that included his brother Rudy and Finlay Kemp, Frost's eldest son with her first husband, Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet. The band, Dirty Harry's, also features Rafferty's co-founder Marley Mackey, son of Pulp's bassist Steve Mackey.

Vaughan, who was born in Manchester in 1944, eventually left Frost's mother when Sadie was aged four and her younger sister, Sunshine Tara Purple Velvet, was three. For a while, he squatted in a house next door to his former family and made frantic and sometimes violent attempts to keep in contact with Frost.

In the early 1970s, suffering with bad mental health, he returned to the north-west, working with children, youth groups and people with learning disabilities, designing an adventure playground for the Forestry Commission in Wales and decorating hospital wards in Tameside and Manchester.

When Law and Frost split up, Vaughan tried to make a statement in support of his daughter with a series of harrowing paintings. "I just thought of him as my mad dad. He would hit people and be difficult. But now I think, well, he was ill and suffering with Hepatitis C, so he was not always able to behave."

Vaughan died in 2003 from liver failure as a result of his illness. Frost is now a patron of the Hepatitis C Trust.

"I made a slip of the tongue the other day and said that Dad would be looking up at us and smiling, instead of looking down, but maybe I was right!" she said.


Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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