Samantha McEwen
Galerie Hervé Perdriolle Brussels
Avenue Louise, 337 - visit by appointment

Samantha McEwen "Shine" (I, II, IV, V, VI) 2019 mixed media 21x15 cm

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.

Samantha McEwen on a phone customized by Kenny Scharf 1981.
Samantha McEwen Untitled (Gazelle) 1986 painting on canvas, collection Tony Shafrazi New York.

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. It is no suprise that Sam should be drawn to painting flowers. Her father, the late Rory McEwen, was one of the most prolific and poetic painters of his generation. I ask her what he would have thought of her efforts "I suspect he would have hated them," she says, beaming. Rory had all the precision of a miniaturist but Sam's pictures are flamboyant and impressionistic - more Monet than Margaret Mee.

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 Basquait and also met Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol. She found the New York artist's drive and eagerness for public acclaim impressive, but eventually decided there was no place like home. "In Britain, the emphasis is so much more on the person rather than the job they do." Another reason for her return was that many of the American artists died from AIDS and drugs. Multiple deaths are something that Sam McEwen has become accustomed to: her father killed himself after a long battle with cancer when she was 22.

In the past, much has been made of the 'curse' of the McEwen's - that has led not only to Rory's untimely death but also to those of other members of the family. Her father's brother James, a bird artist, died of cancer at the age of 39; at much the same age, his younger brother, David, died of an aneurysm caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Robin, his elder brother, died in his mid-50s. Then his nephew, James (Robin's son), shot himself aged just 22, and shortly afterwards his sister, Katie, an artist, drowned while on holiday in Kenya, she was 25.

Coincidence? "My family did go through a period of tragedy and trauma - but it happens," she says sagely. "If you trace it back to a cause, I think it was a shadow cast by the First World War. Even though my grandfather survived, his world had changed and people like him just weren't equipped to teach their sons how to survive in it." (Tatler magazine 2003)

Samantha McEwen, Mineral Painting 2010, mineral pigments on Japanase paper 78x51 cm. Mineral Painting 2010, mineral pigments on Japanase paper 60x45 cm. Small painting neon pigments 2019 20x20,5 cm. Vogue Magazine. Green Painting, canvas IV 2019 20x20,5 cm.

McEwen spent the early days of her career in New York during contemporary art’s move towards the urban, with pop and graffiti in ascendance. Although knowingness and pop-culture reverberate through her work, the obvious references are jettisoned – what is retained 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).

"The Gang's All Here" New York 1980. Back row from left: Daty K., Keith Haring, Carmel Johnson Schmidt, John Sex, Bruno Schmidt, Samantha Mcewen, Juan Dubose, Dan Friedman. Front row from feft: Kenny Scharf, Tereza Scharf, Min Thometz Sanchez, Tseng Kwong Chi. Photograph by Tseng Kwong Chi © 2020 Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc. New York All rights reserved.

Samantha McEwen "Silver Series"
Edition 20/25, Handmade Collage 2009 Silver Foil on Arches Aquarelle Paper 600 gr, 103x75 cm