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.
"It's very pleasant; it's very nice to be included," Wylie said of her newfound success. "You don’t expect it, you’re not looking for it, you’re just getting on with what you do, and then you get a bit of recognition."
While it may have taken the art world so long to catch up, Wylie has been sticking defiantly to the same large-format, figure-based paintings she's made her own since at least the 70's. After enrolling in the Folkestone and Dover School of Art at 17, she took a postgraduate course at Goldsmiths in London where she met the painter Roy Oxlade, whom she married and had children with almost as soon as they graduated. At that point, as Oxlade continued on with his art, "I didn’t do any painting," Wylie recalled. "I became a proper mother and a proper wife."