The women’s room
Rose Wylie comes to Penzance
Well, well, it seems there’s another great female artist that has come out of the woodwork that we didn’t previously know about, but has thankfully now been ‘discovered’. This despite the fact that Rose Wylie attended the Royal College of Art and is now in her eighties and has been producing art her entire adult life. There’s a similar pattern developing here – think Phyllida Barlow.
It begs the question how many more, great female artists are missing in the roster of British art. Perhaps the time is ripe for a serious reappraisal of our art history to uncover all those ‘undiscovered’ ie: dismissed voices, key among them female voices. Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange Penzance have been trying to counter the discrepancy with female artists with their women led shows this summer.
The initial impression when entering the exhibition space in Newlyn Art Gallery displaying Wylie’s paintings are of scale, colour and an abundance of imagery. These are big works painted in a faux naïve manner. Playing Well is a 2016 painting depicting a shaggy, fuzzy, blonde
‘I found something mildly hysterical and demotic in ‘Wearing a check skirt’. A group of women, or perhaps the same individual’
female tennis player, in a kind of Warholesque, double-take diptych, involved in a tennis match. The figures are comical and cartoonish like Charlie Brown, but in a more existential and esoteric way.
Wylie defines her depth of field - foreground, middle ground and background - with a clever use of double exposure, line and colour, no easy trick to pull off.
I found something mildly hysterical and demotic in Wearing a Check Skirt. A group of women, or perhaps the same individual, I imagined as a Stepford Wife automaton about to morph into a flesh eating zombie à la some South Park, Twilight Zone, type deal. Is there
a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase (No2) in this work?
The oil on canvas work Kill
Bill (Film Notes) from 2007 does depict macabre violence at its heart, via the Jacobean cinematic auteur Quentin Tarantino’s
Kung Fu/Western, Sonny Chiba meets Sergio Leone, blood fest of the eponymous title. The artist here produces a flatly three-dimensional imagery once again by way of space, colour and minimal perspective, which subtly moves from one image to the other. This painting is fun, frivolous, violent and disturbing in all the best traditions of Grand Guignol.
Good Queen Bess is on full display in Queen of Pansies
(Dots), a complex and expressive work fully verbose with text abounding.
While the purple and yellow juxtapositions within the pansies seem to reference abstract art, I love the literal reference ‘can but does not take revenge’.
I envisioned here a character from the 1988 black comedy Heathers or more a more recent film shown at Newlyn Filmhouse Thoroughbreds, or perhaps Miranda Richardson’s exquisite turn as Queenie in Blackadder 2. The painting does certainly reference Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger ‘Queen Elizabeth I’ (The Ditchley portrait) from 1592, after a manner anyway.
The word pansies itself, written on the canvas, drifts off into that most French of humour, the pun, in the following words: pensées pensées pensées (thoughts thoughts thoughts). A feminine refrain deftly moving from idle flowers to the title of the philosopher Blaise Pascal’s 17th Century work. This text is written in paint, but there is also other text written into the margins of the canvas, as though it has been vandalised with graffiti.
There is a temptation here to link Wylie with Jean Michel Basquiat, but I feel it is a lazy comparison. I like Basquiat’s art and I am glad he got himself discovered. But I think Wylie’s work deserves to exist on its own merit: it has staked out a claim on its own unique territory.
Red Indian History Painting
is some devilish, contemporary, Bayeux Tapestry on acid, depicting the European conquest of the Americas and also the travels of the Trans- Atlantic slave trade. Wylie proves here that she isn’t afraid of the bigger subjects of history. The Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower is relegated to a small ship at sea, the right side of the canvas is taken up by an indigenous American on a horse, outsizing everything in the composition and maintaining its position as the focal point of the canvas.
For all of my peregrinations and suppositions into the realm of popular culture here, Rose Wylie is a painter and these are all fiercely, painterly artworks. Wylie is a frenetic, anarchic artist; expressionistic, mischievous,
‘Wylie’s paintings are of scale, colour and an abundance of imagery. These are big works painted in a faux naïve manner.’
meticulous and serious. She is a wonderful antidote to our current age of pixilation and digitisation. For all of her advancing years the paintings on display here feel very contemporary and now. Art is alive and well and this is proper art, as art should be. Let’s see a computer conjure up these images. Up yours robot!
Rose Wylie: History Painting continues until 15 September at at Newlyn Art Gallery, New Road, Newlyn TR18 5PZ and The Exchange, Princes Street, Penzance TR18 2NL newlynartgallery.co.uk
Kill Bill (Film Notes) (2007) 180×308cm
ABOVE:Pink Skater, (Will I Win, Will I Win), (2015) 208×329cm
BELOW:Park Dogs & Air Raid (2017) 393x331cm