Portraits of Samantha McEwen by Alex Katz 1982 (left)
and Francesco Clemente 1984 (right).
Sam McEwen is wearing clumpy leather biker boots, a black leather jacket and scarlet lipstick. She is standing behind the till of a biker's shop in Notting Hill (where she occassionaly works), surrounded by enough deluxe windcheaters and crash helmets to equip a posse of Hell's Angels or Sloaney lady bikers.
Sam, who is descended from the American Astor dynasty as well as one of Scotland's most highbrow bohemian families, is the kind of sultry and glamorous shop girl you only see in Hollywood movies. But behind her Lara Croft image is an eager flower and bird painter. At her home in Shepherd's Bush are rack upon rack of fish eagles, buck deer and large flowerheads that float almost like Buddhist lotuses on fields of colour.
Born in London in 1961, Sam studied in the States - philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College, and then painting, at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She shared a flat in the Bowery with the artist Keith Haring, was a good friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat and also met Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol (Tatler magazine 2003). In her entourage, Francesco Clemente and Alex Katz, who both painted portraits of Samantha. Like many women of her generation, her work has been downplayed, and we are pleased to rediscover it today.
Although knowingness and pop-culture reverberate through her work, the obvious references are jettisoned – what is retained in her recently work is the pop-art tradition of breaking the world down to shiny surfaces; an approach that she has sophisticated and maturated.
Mass-produced materials we know from city landscapes, the glass and steel that constantly surround us, are abstracted, imitated, and converted into or onto canvases. The bold and insistent colours of the 21st century urban, commercial and digital aesthetics are tamed and stripped into semi-abstractions, peacefully layered and composed, barely hinting at the visual turmoil of the contemporary moment from which they came. All that remains, is peace, balance, glitter, gouache and tarpaulin. ("Bower Paintings" at Generation &Display, London 2019)