Sam Taylor-Wood: Hooked on a Feeling

The first time I ever heard of Sam Taylor-Wood was when Elton John hired her as the director of his new music video “I Want Love” feat. Robert Downey Jr (big fan here!). Considering the context of what Downey was going through, I was particularly moved by the sensitivity of the song and the way STW highlighted it.

STW is a British contemporary artist, photographer, filmmaker and videographer who graduated from Goldsmiths College in London, an institution specialized in creative, cultural and cognitive disciplines. Her work is mainly based on personal experiences and focuses on the difficulties that human beings have in conveying their emotions. Her most famous pieces express loneliness and isolation, and sometimes refer to religious symbols. STW’s past and body also represent a major source of inspiration for her: she survived breast and colon cancers, and she does not hesitate to stage herself in her own works – sometimes even posing naked.

Let’s have a quick look on a few of her most famous pieces:

1996 – Wrecked

This large-scale photograph depicts the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci “The Last Supper” and was first presented at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in the frame of the 1999 provocative show “Sensation”, which included pieces of the Saatchi collection.

The Last Supper (Leonardo Da Vinci)

Wrecked (Sam Taylor-Wood)

The whole exhibition presented some artworks in direct reference to religion and received a strong criticism from the Catholic community when it toured at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani even claimed the First Amendment and threatened to withdraw the annual grant of the museum. However, STW’s photo didn’t cause that much controversy unlike other works of the show.

2001 – “I Want Love” video clip

Since Elton John no longer wishes to appear in the video clips of his own songs,  he asked Robert Downey Jr – who, back then, had freshly been fired from the show “Ally McBeal” and was struggling with legal issues related to his drug addiction – to feature in his new music clip when he released the album “Songs from the West Coast”. Sam Taylor-Wood was hired to write and direct the video which was shot in a posh house of Beverly Hills. RDJ performs a lip-dub while wandering from room to room in one single take.

2001 – Still Life

As STW was just recovering from her second cancer, she took inspiration from classical still-life paintings to render the acceptance of mortality and the vanity of things.

2002 – The Pieta

This is the second collaboration between STW and RDJ. Originally, “The Pieta” is a sculpture by Michelangelo representing the Virgin Mary holding her dead son.

STW staged herself holding RDJ in a 2 min. movie that was showed onto a big screen. The aim of this work was to illustrate the physical abandon of a dying man, as well as the emotional distress and exhaustion of a loving mother. In my humble opinion, this is the most iconic production of STW, and probably my favorite one.

2002 – Crying Men

At the request of GQ magazine, STW took pictures of Hollywood celebrities, including RDJ (again!), crying in front of the camera. The theme was “Portraits of Sorrow”.

Robin Williams

Hayden Christensen

Jude Law

Laurence Fishburne

Robert Downey Jr

Tim Roth

2004 – David

In the frame of the World Cup year, this work was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in London and was meant to be part of the permanent collection. STW was asked to make an intimate portrait of football player David Beckham, and she produced a 67 min. video of Beckham sleeping in a hotel room in Madrid.

2004 – Self-Portraits Suspended

Once again, STW staged herself in the aim of showing the physical boundaries of the human body defying gravity.  She decided to insist on levitation rather than falling, and the ropes she used were then removed digitally.

2010 – Nowhere Boy

STW directed this film focusing on John Lennon’s early years. She’s now in a relationship with the lead actor, Aaron Johnson, who is 23 years younger than she is.

A book presenting part of her artwork was published in 2008, and a picture of RDJ from the clip “I Want Love” has been used as the cover: check it on Amazon.

To close this (long) post on STW’s work, I have to say that she’s a fantastic, multitalented, off-the-track artist. She puts a lot of herself in her work, and most of the times what she tries to convey just makes sense to me. Contemporary artists do not necessarily appeal to my classical way of seeing and feeling things but she manages to keep an emotional spirit in what she does without sacrificing humanity and credibility to originality, and vice-versa.