Sam Taylor-Wood: A Portrayal of Moments with Crying Men

Sam Taylor-Wood: A Portrayal of Moments with Crying Men

Sam Taylor-Wood: Portraits of Crying Men

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer eleven years ago, Sam Taylor-Wood was the darling social party girl of the Young British Art Movement. Now, at the age of 41, Taylor-Wood has become one of the British art world’s most acceptable faces: a mature artist with an A-list address book and, with her husband Jay Jopling, a place at the best table at Britain’s new art establishment. Grown men have wept for her, but how will they remember her? She could have sat for Modigliani. Her long face, the slim figure, the strong, bony hands all echo the sensuality and elongated elegance of his models. There are hints of it in her own self-portraits, especially the strangely balletic Self-Portrait Suspended, which was made after she had filmed and photographed members of Great Britain’s Royal Ballet. This is a forgivable display of narcissism; a creative work that is evoked by a dream of swimming in air can hardly be a legitimate source of public outrage in the art world.

Taylor-Wood’s earlier acclaimed experimental short film, Still Life, in which a bowl of fruit was filmed slowly rotting away, confronted the issue of mortality and life’s inevitable transience. Her later work, Crying Men, is a treatise on the theme of sadness. It has very recently been “discovered” in the United States and is attracting considerable attention (although I published an article about “Crying Men” here some months ago). Her series of photographs in Crying Men attempts to capture an unusual liminal space, the moment between the real and the unreal, the imitation and the authentic. Her deliberate use of celebrity actors as models evokes curiosity about whether and to what degree their tears of sadness (and therefore their emotions) are genuine. If the models had been anonymous, the question wouldn’t even arise. It is a subtle challenge that is typical of Taylor-Wood’s increasing degree of maturity as a visual artist.

Sam Taylor-Wood: Portraits of Crying Men

BBC Interview: Sam Taylor-Wood Discusses “Crying Men”

Pietà: An Icon of Exhaustion and Distress

In Pietà, Sam Taylor-Wood labors to support the draped body of Robert Downey Jr. Downey, who is laid out like Holbein’s Dead Christ in the Tomb, is presented in a manner that is so matter of fact, so drained of real urgency, that the idea of death asserts itself with the chilled subtlety of a business card simply dropped onto a dinner setting. Why him, one might ask, and for that matter, why her? Why ask, would be her likely reply. Taylor-Wood has appropriated widely in the past, from Atlas to Roman orgy scenes (updated to the present day) to Hollywood movies. Here, as elsewhere in her work, feelings of emotional and physical distress take the place of narrative. The Pietà becomes an icon of exhaustion and distress, in her hands. Or obversely, exhaustion and distress become iconic, if only by association.

Pieta: A World of Exhaustion and Distress

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