Rose Wylie is an octogenarian who's had three hip replacements. She lives in a cottage with an untended garden in a small village in Kent and yet has been identified, recently, as an up-and-coming artist. It's testament to how the art world, unlike other cultural spheres, doesn't discriminate against older people.
In 2009 she was one of the seven finalists for the Threadneedle prize for painting and sculpture and in 2011 one of the winners of the Paul Hamlyn prize for visual arts. As recently as 2015 she became a member of the Royal Academy and won the Charles Wollaston Award for most distinguished work at the Summer Exhibition.
She's got a small, very small, show (Horse, Bird, Cat) on at the David Zwirner gallery in Grafton Street, Mayfair at the moment so I popped in to have a look. It didn't take very long but it was, nonetheless, rather charming. It's just one room with three large oil on canvas paintings and a selection of coloured pencil and collage works. All created in 2016.
Volcano, Pig, Cigar-Man perhaps best exemplifies Wylie's faux-naïve style. It owes a debt to Philip Guston's later post-abstract work but whereas Guston would work through a series of familiar tropes of his own inventing Wylie takes her inspiration from the layers of newspaper that line her studio floor using images encountered almost by chance. Previous works have incorporated John Terry and Wayne Rooney. Wylie's not particularly a football fan but their faces had become familiar through watching Match of the Day on a Saturday evening.
One of the things that has held Wylie back in the past and stopped her from making footballer type money out of art is the sheer size of her works. Not many people, or even galleries, have room to hang them. The 18ft long three panel Horse, Bird, Cat (below) gives the exhibition its name and is a prime example.
Its monochrome rendering reminds me of William Kentridge or Kara Walker though it lacks, in fact doesn't even try for, the political symbolism of those weightier artists. In line with Guston, again, and also perhaps Winifred Knights, Wylie uses a flattened perspective whilst, at the same time, betraying a keen knowledge of the history of art. Observers have suggested a debt to the inky gestural daubs of Ad Reinhardt and Franz Kline and, in the case of Kline specifically, I can see where they're coming from.
The collage/pencil works are intentionally scrappy and mostly presented on sheets of A4 seemingly ripped out of a jotter. Cuban Dancers & Backup Singers (above) and Playing Well (below) suggest that Wylie may have employed an automatic writing technique, coming to the works with no prior intention of anything. That's pure speculation on my part but your enjoyment, or not, of these works may well be clouded by your tolerance for all things twee and winsome.
Even more so in the case of Barber Boy's Head (above) and Dancer, in-steps out (Diary) (below). The boy's head seems to reappear in Volcano, Pig, Cigar-Man suggesting a preparatory sketch. Wylie also seems to have taken influence from the vernacular artwork of West African barber shops and, certainly, flicking through the small selection of books in the foyer of the gallery this is backed up.
Repetition appears the key with Skipping, Skipping, Jump Twice (above) and Tube Girls (below). Wylie often works from memory and she typically makes numerous drawings on that theme as a kind of mnemonic exercise from which her paintings (like Stealth Bomber, the last image in this blog) eventually emerge. In that respect these rough drafts are really here so we can gain some idea of the process the artist employs.
That's all well and good but it'd have been much better if there were a few more of her oil paintings present for our assessment. As it stands this exhibition acts merely as a taster, an amuse-bouche, before a main course denied. I'll have to look out for future shows which seems absolutely correct in an 'up-and-coming' artist! For now, though, a heart-warming story of how sticking to one's guns can pay dividends in the long run.