In The Studio: Rose Wylie, artist
'I don't sit down all day, no lunch, nothing. That can last two to three days'
Saturday 28 July 2012
Stilettos; red lipstick; a striking white face. Those are the memories I have of Rose Wylie from the first time I met her more than 20 years ago. On a studio visit with Wylie and Roy Oxlade, her artist husband, I was horrified to see Wylie walk on her canvases in high heels, leaving perceptible dents in her wake. In my head she was also smoking and a cigarette and ash fell onto the surface, but that could just be poetic recreation.
Fast forward and I am returning to the same red-brick house near Sittingbourne, Kent, where I visited her before. They have been here over 40 years, but their circumstances have altered. At 77, Wylie has recently been discovered in all the "right places". Her works have been seen in Moscow, Berlin, Miami and Washington, DC, and formed the inaugural exhibition in the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings. Museum shows are being planned for Tate Britain next spring and Philadelphia this autumn. Last year, she won the prestigious Paul Hamlyn prize.
No longer are stacks of canvases piled up on the floor and against the walls; now trucks come and take them away to be stored carefully under museum-like conditions.
Wylie is completely recognisable to me, though. Still wraithlike with her now grey hair in a stylish bob, she leads the way up the precipitous stairs. Opening the door and ducking under the eaves is like entering a film set for a painter's studio. The floor is covered in newspaper and a wooden table is overrun by large, messy cans of paint, many open. On the floor is a work in progress, and on the two end walls, two large works are pinned in place, awaiting finishing touches.
"I can no longer wear heels," she sighs, pointing to her pair of paint-speckled shoes; in a previous life, she tells me, they were mauve. She waves me to the only chair – covered in paint, but dry, she assures me. "I don't sit down all day, no lunch, nothing. That can last two to three days and then I will think for a day and come back."
One large work in progress, featuring two chickens, is based on a hen house, an Easter present received by her middle child. It is part of a group of works apparently responding to a government campaign to make England thinner, which also includes sportspeople and too-thin celebrities – "like Tiger Woods and Posh Spice," she says. "I use things from the newspaper and news as they are everywhere." Her outsize paintings with quasi-cartoonish faces conjure up activity. I ask if she saw Andy Murray in action at Wimbledon this year. "I love him, he is such a cartoonlike figure, so thin – and his mouth!"
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