Keith Vaughan painted a number of versions of the story of Laocoon, many of which were exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in 1963. In the Greek myth, Laocoon a priest from the city of Troy, wary of the arrival of the Trojan horse, warns against accepting it as a gift, throwing his spear into the horse's side. For this outburst Laocoon is punished by the gods, who send two snakes to attack him; these snakes coil around Laocoon crushing him to death along with his two sons.
This new series of mythical paintings are described by the writer Malcolm Yorke:
“…In the past the figures had been as self-posessed as the Greek gods, but now he tried to depict the suffering of those who dared to offend the gods. In the Laocoon works the bodies rush together and merge in a scrum from which emerge wildly gesticulating limbs that cannot with any certainty be attributed to particular owners. Outlines have gone, and like the figures themselves the paint is dragged into the dark grounds, overlapped, merged and coarsened. They represented, he said, ‘in supremely dramatic form man’s conflict with his environment and with himself, his own body’. Appropriately serpentine strokes slither wildly to agitate the whole surface and carry energy right into the corners. It is as if Vaughan had been suddenly converted from classical ballet to the wildest extremes of modern dance…” (Keith Vaughan- His Life and Work, p215)
Vaughan depicted further biblical and mythological stories which featured crowds. Later in 1971 he reflects on their character in his journal:
“…There are fewer single figures, but crowds making a single , corporate form - crowds, masses, unidentifiable crowds. Before I made asssemblies of figures, people making studied gestures to each other. Or single melancholic figures. Now I’m trying to combine the two things. How do I reconcile this with the idea of isolation? They’re not happy masses, they’re in a panic state of conflict, except in the Laocoon paintings where there is a deliberate state of aggressiveness. I’m not concerned with a classical Poussinesque movement, or a mass in happy association, but a crowd like an Oxford Street mass, jolting, jostling and pushing, when every contour has an abrasive action on every other contour…”
As well as changing his approach to the figure, he also began to use a different palette around this time. His paintings now include higher pitched, lighter colours such as auburns, maroons, browns, pinks and cadmiums, in place of his trademark blues, of which this painting and Three Figures on a Red Ground 1963, are wonderful examples.