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Artist Sam Shaker tells Dan Carrier how singer Amy Winehouse became a model friend... in both senses


Published: 10 November, 2011

IT seemed at first to be an unlikely friendship, but after teenage singer Amy Winehouse had walked into Egyptian artist Sam Shaker’s Soho Jazz After Dark club on an empty Monday night and asked if she could do a number or two on stage, they became very best friends.

Sam, 72, met the singer 12 years ago. Now, just months after her death, he is putting on an exhibition of some of the 40-plus oil paintings he did of her while they hung out together.

“I remember clearly when we first met,” he says. “She had come to the club and I told her it was £3 to get in. She said she didn’t have enough money. The place was empty so I let her in for free. After half an hour she came up to me and asked if she could join the band on stage. She started singing – and it was amazing.”

Sam, who trained at the prestigious Leonardo Da Vinci art academy in Rome as a 20-year-old and worked in Paris in the 1970s as an artist, has painted a fair number of famous faces, including Kevin Spacey and Kate Moss.

But after meeting Amy decided he wanted to use her as his muse.

She quickly agreed – and Sam recalls how she would offer advice. “I had been painting her for five years and she would offer help on how to get her hair just right,” he says. “I had painted her so much I could close my eyes and paint her tattoos perfectly. She would say to me: ‘Make me beautiful’.”  

Their friendship blossomed as Amy began to use his club to rehearse – and bring her father Mitch along, too.

Sam painted them together, and the finished work took pride of place in her bedroom in her Camden Town home.

“She was such an amazing talent,” he says. “As a musician, she was incredible. I remember her once asking me for a pen and piece of paper and she picked up her guitar and had written a song in 15 minutes flat.”

And with Amy’s death in July still very raw, he hopes the paintings will bring back happy memories for his friends who also got to know her.

“I was at Jazz After Dark when I heard the news on the TV,” he says. “I was in such a state of shock. I have not yet properly recovered from her loss. None of us who knew and loved her have.”

• Sam Shaker on Amy Winehouse is at Camden Art Gallery, 62 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AN, on November 11, 12 and 13, 10am-6pm.


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