Rory McEwen - a passion for contemporary botanical art and folk music
Alongside his work as a botanical artist, Rory McEwen was a leading light in the post-war folk song revival. Find out more about the life of this visionary contemporary artist and folk musician. The book Rory McEwen Colours Of Reality is available to buy now and the associated exhibition runs from 11 May to 22 September 2013, in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew Gardens.
Buy the book - 'Rory McEwen The Colours of Reality'
Painting from an early age
Having begun to paint flowers at the age of eight, Rory McEwen developed a talent for representing his subject matter with scientific precision and artistic flair, despite having no formal art school training. From 1964 he devoted himself exclusively to visual art.
In his paintings he forged his own personal interpretation of 20th century modernism, taking individual flowers and vegetables as subject matter, while also experimenting with sculptures in glass, metal and perspex, and abstracts in oil. Over the course of his career, McEwen developed a distinctive style, painting on vellum and using large empty backgrounds on which his ‘plant portraits’ seem to float. Without shadows and executed in exact, minutely accurate detail, he recorded the imperfect and the unique, as well as the flawless.
A true contemporary artist
Rory McEwen’s interest in contemporary thinking was reflected in his artistic and musical friendships, which both influenced and were influencing. Among his closest artist friends were the Americans Jim Dine, Robert Graham, Brice Marden, Cy Twombley and David Novros. Among close poet friends were the Portuguese Alberto de Lacerda, the Americans Kenneth Koch and Ron Padget, and Scotsman Alastair Reid. In his musical circle he became particular friends of Ramblin' Jack Eliot (Bob Dylan's musical father), and the Rev. Gary Davis.
Van Morrison and the folk singer Martin Carthy cite McEwen as an influence, with Carthy recalling that “you saw the world when you went to Tregunter Road [the McEwen home]. Bob Dylan, George Melly, Princess Margaret, The Beatles...”
Road trips and folk songs
In 1956 McEwen toured the USA with his brother, Alex, and their acoustic guitars, becoming one of the first British acts to appear on the Ed Sullivan TV show. On his return to the UK, McEwen earned national fame as a resident singer on the Tonight programme followed, in the 1960s, by the role of host of the late-night folk and blues programme, Hullabaloo, a precursor to Later…with Jools Holland. Inspired by the iconic American folk and blues musician, Leadbelly, McEwen was arguably the first person to play 12-string acoustic guitar on television in Britain. His guitar will be on show at the exhibition.
Tickets for the Gardens, including the Rory McEwen exhibition
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