Saturday, 10 February 2018

Rose Wylie:Quack Quack.

"In my life I stack and heap up notations of experiences. Usually I paint something I've seen, but I may fiddle with the scale, context and rules of gravity. I draw from observation, memory and with 'conceptual projection' - how a stereotype would look from the un-stereotypical view" - Rose Wylie.

When I visited Rose Wylie's 'Horse, Bird, Cat' show last January at the David Zwirner gallery on Grafton Street in Mayfair, I'd written " I'll have to look out for future shows" in an assessment that was both fulsome and generous, if a little guarded due to the small scale of the show, in its appraisal of her work.

But, and despite many of the same themes (Cuban dancers, West African barber shops, huge planes of colour, and flattened perspectives) being riffed on, with the Serpentine Sackler's equally childishly titled retrospective, Quack Quack I ask you, of her work I came away less, rather than more, impressed.

Maybe her work doesn't warrant a show of this size after all. Maybe it's me, maybe what I want from art now is different. Or maybe it's the world we live in. We're living in tough, confusing, and potentially very dangerous times. Twee pictures of horses, cats, and park benches don't really cut it.

 
Arsenal & Spurs (2006)

 
Yellow Strip (2006)
 
As mere trinkets, diversions from the stuff of life, it's entirely apt that two paintings of football have been included. Football (and I like it) has, for many years, been the bread and circuses dished out to us, the lower orders, to keep us placated. The acrobats and clowns that perform the beautiful game receiving grossly distorted recompense for their role in keeping us distracted.
 
Though it's hard to imagine a football fan getting much from either Arsenal & Spurs or Yellow Strip. Any more than it could be suggested that Park Bench (Migrant) says anything worthwhile about the growing problems of homelessness, the migrant crisis, or our woeful response to it.
 
Jack Goes Swimming (Jack) sneaks in a reference to Philip Seymour Hoffman but, again, it doesn't seem to offer any comment on drug addiction or the underlying anxieties and depressions that lead people like Hoffman to self-medication and, eventually, suicide. It doesn't even say much about his acting. It's just a badly painted pink man hovering over a swimming pool.

 
Park Bench (Migrant) 2017

 
Choco Leibnitz (2006)

 
Jack Goes Swimming (Jack) (2013)

 
Cuban Scene, Smoke (2016)

 
Irreverent Anatomy Drawing (2017)
 
Of course, not everything has to mean something. Art can just look nice - or can be fun. But Wylie's work, when spread across a reasonably large show like this, starts to look a bit unimaginative. She starts to look a bit stuck. The reds and yellows of Empty Bench and its faux-na├»ve rendering made it one of my favourite things in the show but Playing Well and ER & ET? Well, they just look a bit shit really, don't they?
 
Wylie's paintings conjure up half-remembered things from normal life, television, and films - and that's all well and good - but she doesn't seem to do much with them. Why not tease these half-remembered ideas and vague gauzy dreams into weird and fantastic shapes? Why not take us on some kind of trip? Why not push at the barriers of imagination? Why play it so very safe? Because it gets you a big show at a major London gallery one suspects.

 
Empty Bench (2017)

 
Playing Well (2016)

 
ER & ET (2011)

 
PC Small Head With Frame III (2014)

 
Park Dogs & Air Raid (2017)

 
Party Clothes (RW and Cat) (2016)
 
Claims that the show's title is both inspired by the ducks in the park and also a riff on 'ack ack' (a term used to describe the sound of World War II aircraft artillery) suggest there's a bit more going on, and the scrawls on Rosemount (coloured) and Queen with Pansies (Dots) look, initially, as intriguing as an imperial phase Fela Kuti or Fall album cover, but I'm screwed if I can fathom exactly what it is.
 
In January 2017 I left a Rose Wylie show wishing for more. In February 2018 I walked out of a Rose Wylie show and I felt I'd probably had my fill for now. Pity.

 
Rosemount (coloured) (1999)

 
Queen with Pansies (Dots) (2016)

 
Pink Skater (Will I Win, Will I Win) (2015)

 
Kill Bill (Film Notes) (2007)


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