Sam Taylor Wood

Sam Taylor Wood

Taylor-Wood was born, in Streatham in south London, the scion of a distinctly 1960s family. Her mother practiced astrology, taught yoga, and when her biker father left when Sam was nine years old, moved her, her younger sister and her half-brother to an Eastern-influenced commune in Sussex. Taylor-Wood later recalled that they wore orange robes and switched between practicing Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity at their mother's theological whim, until she abruptly abandoned her children upon moving in with a new boyfriend. After attending a polytechnic school in London, Taylor-Wood demonstrated an artistic streak that earned her a transfer to the art-inclined Goldsmiths College of the University of London. There she fell in with a group of conceptual artists - including Damien Hirst, a major catalyst of the group as an art movement - who in 1988 staged their first collective showing in a London warehouse. Called the "Freeze" exhibition, it earned much buzz in the city's art community. Hirst struck up a friendship with influentials including dealer Jay Jopling and advertising magnate Charles Saatchi; the latter winding up branding the group with his gallery's 1992 showing of their work under the rubric "Young British Artists," (shortened to YBAs for its members, or "Britart" for the general movement). Taylor-Wood began showing her art in the early '90s, working in both stylistic photos and multi-screen video exhibits. She soon become one of the cadre's leading lights, taking the Illy Café Prize in 1997 that was given to the most promising new artist at the Venice Biennale festival, and in 1998, earning a nomination for the U.K.'s esteemed Turner Prize, given annually to an artist under 50. Along the way she began a relationship with the influential Jopling, and they married in 1997. Six months later Taylor-Wood gave birth to the first of two daughters by the art dealer, and the occasion would see her reconcile with her mother. But only three months later, the artist was diagnosed with colon cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and beat the disease, as well as continued to build her rep; at one point during a 2000 New York exhibit she was dubbed "princess charming of the English art scene" in The Village Voice. The Voice was not as kind to her work, observing her use of Robert Downey, Jr. in a Christ-like portrait and a multi-screen video rendering of a swank party, with erstwhile Britpop scene-queen Marianne Faithfull as its centerpiece, connoted more sizzle than steak. "She has become what she beheld," the Voice review stated, "a belle of the new haut monde. But instead of probing this sect, she's dazzled by it." The U.K.'s Guardian was more laudatory about her exhibit the next year at Jopling's White Cube gallery, characterizing her work as having "an undeniably potent air of glamour mixed with introspection, sadness and intimations of death in the exhibition." Taylor-Wood would secure solo exhibits in as far afield as Zurich; Copenhagen; Washington, D.C.; Madrid; St. Petersburg and Moscow. She and Downey worked together again in 2001 with the actor taking the central role in her video for Elton John's single, "I Want Love." In 2002, the U.K.'s National Portrait Gallery commissioned Taylor-Wood to create a distinctive portrait of the country's top sports icon, David Beckham. The artist shot video of the rugged soccer star as he slept; a less-stagy, more vulnerable alternative to the model-cum-superhero poses he typically struck for the camera. After surviving a second bout with cancer, she moved more towards narrative film; in 2006 scripting a segment for the provocative film "Destricted," an anthology of sexually charged scenes meant to artistically deconstruct otherwise pornographic situations.In 2008, she went to work with Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, directing the Minghella-produced short film "Love You More," the tale of two teens in the late '70s who meet at a record store, bond over their mutual love of the Buzzcocks, and engage in a sweetly exploratory tryst. Minghella died before the film's premiere, but it earned a Palm d'Or nomination for Best Short at the Cannes Film Festival, and the next year brought her Best Short nominations from the European Film Awards and the U.K.'s British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in addition to winning an honorable mention at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. In the summer of 2008, Taylor-Wood won her first feature directing job, "Nowhere Boy," the tale of a teenage, pre-Beatles John Lennon and how he found his rock & roll muse amid relationships with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and Uncle George, as well as his estranged mother, Julia. In a somewhat shocking move, the first-time director began a relationship with her young leading man, Aaron Johnson; then only 18 years old. Jopling and Taylor-Wood split up in the fall of 2008, paving the way for the artist and Johnson to wed nearly a year later. Johnson, himself, was destined for a bigger spotlight in the violent 2010 superhero flick "Kick-Ass." "Nowhere Boy" premiered in late 2009 to generally positive reviews, the U.K.'s Independent calling it a "remarkably assured debut feature" for the director. For her work on "Nowhere Boy," Taylor-Wood again earned the notice of BAFTA with nominations for Outstanding Film and Outstanding Debut. Taylor-Wood bore Johnson's child, a daughter, in the summer of 2010. Upon their marriage in 2012, both Sam and Aaron took the combined surname Taylor-Johnson. In 2014, Taylor-Johnson was announced as the director of the film adaptation of the BDSM-themed literary sensation "50 Shades of Grey" (2015). The film opened on Valentine's Day weekend 2015 to impressive box office but mixed reviews. Following reports of production clashes between herself and author E.L. James, Taylor-Johnson announced that she would not be returning to direct the film's two planned sequels.