In the photograph Slut, artist Sam Taylor-Wood has her eyes closed—as though the thick layers of black makeup weigh too heavy on them—and her neck boasts angry, red love bites. Made in 1993 at age 26, it was the British artist’s first self-portrait. She wanted to convey the feeling of a person being happy about the label “slut” but admits her eyes are closed as a mask, keeping viewers distant.
Last year, London’s hottest contemporary artist—with celebrity friendships, a cutting-edge art dealer husband and a new daughter to boot—made another powerful photograph. Taylor-Wood’s Self Portrait
in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare depicts the artist in a black tailored suit, holding a stiff rabbit in one hand and the camera’s shutter release in the other. Her eyes are wide open and it’s a brutally frank imagein the past five years Taylor-Wood has fought an ongoing struggle with cancer, first of bowel and then of breast which necessitated a mastectomy and chemo. “I think a great artwork challenges the way you look at life or look at things with a different perspective,” says Taylor-Wood, now 35, who adds hastily, “I can’t speak so grandly of my own work, but a great piece slightly changes you.”
These two self-portraits are among 27 pieces, including seven installations, that
make up Taylor-Wood’s first Canadian solo show. The exhibit, which recently opened at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and runs until Jan. 12, features photography and short films accompanied by music. Much of the work captures the human body in raw or awkward poses. “It’s very important to me,” says Taylor-Wood. “People in different states of nakedness are people at their most vulnerable or at the most peace with themselves.” And with her eyes now wide open, perhaps Taylor-Wood is making her own peace.
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