Rory McEwen was a polymath: musician, writer, television presenter, poet, sculptor, and painter. Born in the Scottish Borders, his interest in plants was fostered young by a botanically-minded governess. He studied English at Trinity College, Cambridge but was already inclining towards botanical art, illustrating Rev Oscar C Moreton’s book on Carnations with whom he went on to illustrate a book on Auriculas. In the late 1950s Rory launched a successful music career touring the USA as Scottish folk duo with his brother
Alex and in 1963 he became the catalyst and host for the ABC late night music programme Hullabaloo, introducing a galaxy of musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson to a UK audience. In 1964 however he abandoned music to devote himself full time to art. He had already had his first major exhibition with Durlacher Brothers in New York in 1962. At the centre of his work were the watercolours on vellum: luminous ‘plant portraits’ of flowers, vegetables, and leaves. His deep curiosity in art as a medium for exploration, gave him a wide understanding of, and interest in, contemporary modern art as well as the great masters of the past, and he experimented with abstraction and minimalism, as well as sculpting with glass, perspex, and metal.
This series of etchings of leaf studies were produced in the late 1970s – each leaf represented a place that was of great importance to the artist. Some of the prints were included in a book From the Air alongside poems by American poet Kenneth Koch.
“… our governess instructed us in drawing from nature. I still have some of those drawings… They conjure up freedom and fine weather, tickling trout … bare feet in cool water …”
“His botanical work predated and outlasted all others, and in it, paradoxically, he was most truly an artist of his time. For while a good many artists could work in these idioms of modernism, none could paint an auricula or an onion as he could, while possessing the consciousness of a modern artist.”
Douglas Hall (1926-2019) Founding Keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art