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?