Rose Wylie made headlines when she became the darling of the art world in her late seventies. Her first major solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery last year earned her five star reviews and featured references to everything from Queen Elizabeth I to chocolate biscuits to Hollywood scandals - but her latest show, Lolita’s House at David Zwirner, has a narrower focus. "I live in the countryside in Kent, and in the 1970s, there was a teenage girl from across the way who used to wash cars outside her house," she explains. "She was always wearing a bikini, with a fag coming out of her mouth. I affectionately nicknamed her Lolita. More recently, I did a sketch of a girl leaning on a car, and it reminded me of her. It was the beginning of an entire series of works about the place that I call home."
Below, the critically-acclaimed artist shares five more things that have inspired her.
A treat for those who loved - or missed - Wylie’s recent hit show at The Serpentine. New works
- large multi-panelled paintings and smaller sketches or "workings" side by side in Wylie’s flashback to a neighbour’s '70s family life - "Lolita’s House". Teen dreams reimagined via a provocative and determined "unlearning" of the "rules" (combined with a deep understanding of and relationship with art history and pop culture).
The mundane and the accidental outlined by memory, connected by collage, like the lucky spider painting I bought from Wylie for my son a while ago, taped onto her living room door at the time, which now watches over Luc as he sleeps.
One way in, since you were asking, might be to find words to describe the particular brush strokes that Rose Wylie seems to use. Here’s a bit of a list, though not an exhaustible one by any means: splots, dots, dashes, splats, splashes, splodges, licks, tags, plops, plonks, crumps, etc. Does all this sound a bit ridiculous? Sorry. Blame the work, not me.
And a little odd-sounding, too? You bet. There are few painters more arrestingly odd than Wylie, and it took a while for a big gallery to notice quite how pleasingly odd she was, and what it all amounted to. This is her second show at David Zwirner over in Mayfair, but her first wasn’t much of a show at all, so you could call it her first without over-masticating the truth.
It’s a huge show too, covering all three of the gallery’s floors. It is a bit of a surprise that a woman of her age should have produced such a mountain of work – and on such large a scale, too. She will be 84 in October.
Now here comes a big pantechnicon of a generalisation to jam the road. Brace yourself. Evidence from this show proves, at a stroke, quite conclusively, that youth have lost the plot, that they were never mature enough or knowledgeable enough to be taken seriously in the first place. The future belongs to those women who have lived long enough to deserve it. Think of Louise Bourgeois. Think of Phyllida Barlow. My case rests.
British painter Rose Wylie didn’t get her break until her 70s but now the world can’t get enough of her blissfully unruly paintings.
Her latest exhibition opens at the David Zwirner Gallery in London this week.
BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz went to meet the artist at her studio in Kent.
Rose Wylie interview: the artist on Aristotle, Tracey Emin, and her multicoloured Nikes
The past haunts Rose Wylie’s studio, though she’ll never forgive me for saying it. The painter’s work space, upstairs in her Kent cottage, is positively plastered in old newspaper, all the walls and floors and furniture, a kind of installation in itself. Her conversation harks back to history’s greats: Monet, Velazquez, Titian. Then there is the unavoidable fact that the lady herself, one of this decade’s most feted British artists, is 83. Wylie, though, prefers to be stubbornly modern, like the multicoloured Nikes she’s wearing.
"I think art should be about now," she says in her genteel but opinionated way. She says "now" more as "naorr", a product of her well-heeled background in Kent and colonial India. "Not always looking back, and not looking forward, but now."
Wylie, it has to be said, is very now. She has just had a hit show at the Serpentine Gallery, filled with her signature exuberant canvases, all gleeful colour and playful modern references. She’s about to have another, with the arch gallerist David Zwirner. In 2015, she was elected to the RA. Not bad for a woman who only took up painting properly again in her late fifties. "I had time off" ("orf") is how she puts it. "You know the story, you’ve heard it a million times. I was an art student, I finished my course, I got married immediately and had children, and..."
And she only took it up again once her three children were old enough. She started sending off picture after picture, although everything at first was rejected. One day, though, Germaine Greer championed her for a big exhibition; Sienna Miller asked her to do a T-shirt, which also helps. Over the past decade it has all slowly built into a kind of trendy Wylie myth, which she both enjoys and disapproves of. Is it true she used to paint in high heels?
Quack Quack, Said the Duck: The Must See Show in London This Week
Some of the paintings on show in the Serpentine Gallery are so new that during the opening you could smell the oil paint. Rose Wylie may now be in her 80s, but you wouldn’t know it from this rumbustious and rollicking exhibition ("Rose Wylie: Quack Quack" at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 11 February).
Art world fame has come late—Wylie was in her eighth decade when she won the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize in 2014, the same year she became a Royal Academician—and she wears her recognition lightly.
Wylie says that her paintings often “heap up notations of experiences” and multiple readings swirl around these works. Here’s Elizabeth I, farthingaled and be-ruffed, based on Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s famous Ditchley Portrait (c.1592) and surrounded by floating pansies that appear like heraldic shields in Queen with Pansies (Dots) (2016).
Footballers, ice skaters, insects, dogs and film stars prance, bob and cavort across expanses of bare, unprimed canvas, often accompanied by scrawling pieces of text and depicted with a sprawling, schematic immediacy and lashings of thickly applied paint. Sometimes, as in the claggy monochrome scarlet expanses that comprise Red Painting, Bird, Lemur and Elephant (2016) this is directly slathered on with the artist’s hands—a massive Color Field finger-painting.
In the large, recent work Park Dogs and Air Raid (2017), based on a childhood memory of watching British Spitfires and Nazi Messerschmitts slug it out during the Blitz in 1940, planes zap each other with explosive cartoon flashes while, on the ground below, ducks dabble in the lake in front of the Sackler Gallery.
Equally monumental is the gigantic Pink Skater (Will I Win, Will I Win) (2015), in which a blonde woman, resplendent in a candy-pink dress, soars splay-legged across bright orange stars painted over two canvases, with the caption “WILL I WIN” running like ticker tape along the bottom.
Wylie wraps her canvases around corners, creating a sense of dramatic horizontal movement that recalls cartoon strips, film frames, ancient frescoes and architectural friezes. Images repeat and forms echo, making it clear that the apparent spontaneity is underpinned by careful consideration.
While there is a childlike directness to Wylie’s paintings, they are neither childish nor whimsical. Much like Philip Guston (whom she openly admires) the awkwardness of her images is richly expressive. The scale, freedom and confidence of these works convey both grandeur and glee. The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is a demanding space, but with these irresistible paintings, Wylie completely owns it.
Rose Wylie at the Serpentine review: a joyous journey through the moments that make a life
Exhibition review: Rose Wylie at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, W2
"Will I win? Will I win?" shouts the fat pink skater as she hurtles across the in-your-face picture that greets you as you come through the door. I can’t help but feel that, for the painter Rose Wylie, it's a particularly pressing question. And it's one that the curators of this, her first big exhibition in a public London museum invite you to ponder and, hopefully by the end, find an answer for.
Wylie's backstory has commanded attention. Trained as an artist in the early 1950s, she has spent most of her career all but unrecognised. Living quietly in Kent, she devoted her energies to raising her family. And by the time she returned to her easel — or, at least, to the floor on which she typically spreads her expanses of canvas — she was in her forties.
"Her medium is energy," was the apt comment by the Serpentine's artistic director Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s at yesterday's (29 November) opening of Rose Wylie's solo show of enormous exuberant canvases, which line the walls of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. This certainly seemed a good way to sum up the animated, unruly parade of footballers, Hollywood royalty, cut-out dolls as well as Queen Elizabeth, all of which—along with rumbustious dogs, elephants and much more—have been whipped into existence with lashings of oil paint. In one painting even a park bench seems poised for liftoff, and the fact that some of the works had only recently left the studio was confirmed by a distinctly discernible whiff of oil paint.
This is how Rose Wylie paints the sun. She does a big yellow circle. Then she adds straight yellow lines around it. Underneath she does a couple of palm trees that are brown sticks with dollops of green on top. On the sea, she adds an outline of a ship with black smoke puffing out of it.
The teacher gave her a gold star and pinned it on the classroom wall. His name is Mr Hans-Ulrich Obrist and the nursery is called the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The exhibition is called Quack Quack. Oh, and young Rose is 83.
It took me a while to come back to the palm trees in her painting Cuban Scene, Smoke (2016) and compare them with the Californian palms David Hockney paints. Hockney’s palms are more precise, but do they really say more about the essence of a palm than Wylie’s bursts of broad-brushed leaves? Painting is a wonderful, magic thing. That is why young children love doing it. Wylie has rediscovered in maturity the freedom with which we painted when we were kids. Make a dog. Make a duck. Make a V1 flying bomb.
It feels as if the art world has been playing catch-up when it comes to Kent-based Rose Wylie’s large paintings, often inspired by recollections and facts. Five years ago, at the age of 77, she found herself being talked about as an up-and-coming artist, while this show is her first major London exhibition.
Rose Wylie: 'I want to be known for my paintings – not because I'm old'
lot has changed for Rose Wylie since Germaine Greer first praised her vast and blissfully unruly paintings in the Guardian seven years ago. Then the late-blooming artist was a new discovery and her unsold, unstretched canvases were stacked from floor to ceiling in the 17th-century Kent cottage that’s been her home for 50 years. When I arrange to meet her there, just before her new solo show opens at the Serpentine Sackler this month, I worry that there won’t be anything to see.
Over leftover birthday cake – Wylie has just turned 83 – she says that when it comes to the day-to-day business of creating drawings and paintings, little has altered. “I have the same carpenter making the stretchers. I put the glue on myself and cut the canvas. Everything is the same. They just used to pile up. Now they don’t.”
Paintings have recently gone to art fairs in France and Shanghai. What she’s currently working on in her studio, a converted bedroom upstairs, is destined for an exhibition next spring with the blue-chip American dealer David Zwirner. Waiting to be shipped out, in a shed abutting the kitchen, her new commissions for Quack Quack, as the new Serpentine show is called, draw on memories from her time in Kensington as a child during the blitz, as well as observations of the park’s present-day visitors – a mix of fighter planes, cavorting dogs and resting migrants. Pinned on the side of a bookshelf in the dining room is a list of older works for the show, their titles describing the everyday, accessible subjects she loves, from olive oil labels to Choco Leibniz biscuits, from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill to Arsenal and Spurs.
Young at Art: Painter Rose Wylie Is Emerging as a Star at Age 83
Over the last few years, and particularly in recent months, the home studio where the 83-year-old painter Rose Wylie has lived and worked for decades in Kent, England has undergone what amounts to a décor change. Usually stacked to the ceiling with piles of the large-scale canvases that Wylie works on unstretched, with her completed, almost billboard-like works leaning against the wall, it's lately been looking a bit spare. “They used to be here, but not anymore,” she said at home on a recent morning, where she was contemplating a piece she’d been working on until 2 a.m. the night before. “They’ve been out.”
That’s because Wylie is having something of an art world moment in her eighties—a transition from “completely unknown to slightly known,” as she put it—that’s lately left her inventory depleted. Since Wylie appeared as the only non-American artist in the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ "Women to Watch" exhibition in 2010, things have been ramping up for the painter: Just this year, her solo shows have popped up from Cardiff to Seoul, and were joined by another just last week at David Zwirner’s London gallery, “Horse, Bird, Cat," whose titular work spans 18 feet wide. That size may present a challenge for many exhibition spaces, but fortunately, Zwirner's Upper Room gallery—which usually showcases artists outside of the gallery's usual roster, and whom it occasionally goes on to represent—had the room to spare.