Only recently has Rose Wylie received the recognition she deserves. The success of her current show at the Serpentine is a fitting tribute to an often-overlooked artist. Except it is anything but the final act. For a painter in her eighties Rose exudes the joy of an emerging artist, matched with a mind-boggling body of work. God-knows where she stores it all. (Indeed, a small number of her paintings are housed in a temperature controlled chamber she allowed us a quick peek inside of). The Art world is a fast, cruel industry. It is ever-changing, shedding its skin at every turn. Rose, on the other hand, has lived and worked in her Sittingbourne cottage for sixty years. In a home that bears the mark of a long and fulfilling life, where trees slowly make their way through cracks in the kitchen windows, Rose paints with an exuberance that is almost child-like. Not that her work should be mistaken for infantile. Despite her vivid pallet and apparently innocuous forms, there is an unmistakable melancholy in Rose’s depiction of animals, young girls, and scenes of childhood. I asked her what role innocence and the past played in her choice of subjects, and in a charmingly evasive way she lead me over to her most prized possession: a pallet knife that has transformed, over the years, from something utilitarian into something altogether more organic. Its handle has long since disappeared under layers of paint so thick it is as fat as a fist, and shaped over time to fit perfectly in Rose’s hand. There is something wondrous about this pallet knife. It speaks volumes of a life-long commitment to painting, and yet its blade, clean as a whistle, hints at all the work that is yet to come.
There’s still time to see Rose’s exhibit ‘Quack Quack’ at The Serpentine Gallery.
Photographs by Ollie Murphy, Words by James Bowen.