Rose Wylie was born in Kent in 1934. She lives in Kent, formerly with her late husband, the painter Roy Oxlade. They lived in the same house for the past 40 years. They raised their children there. This all would be quite normal if it weren't for the radical approach they both took to painting. Profiled for STATE by the American painter, Marcus Reichert.
Text: Marcus Reichert | Images: Rose Wylie
Roy Oxlade studied under David Bomberg – he, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff all felt the weight of Bomberg's influence – and the instinct to find what is most elemental in the act of painting guided Rose Wylie in her evolution as a painter: the atmosphere in which she works is an all-embracing confirmation of her very own particular vision. ‘I would like my work to look more like something than to look like paintings – to look more like paintings than to look like art, and to be a resolution of poetic transformations. And paint as paint, as well as waxwork: i.e. some parts towards real, other parts not. More theatre than flow, more active than continuous. And it to have a certain likeness to what it comes from. And, in the imagery, I like particulars rather than generals – as in Duck Man, Giovanni di Paolo, Zurbarán, early Cézanne, frescoes, and Roman wall paintings.’
Rose Wylie certainly takes a few other painters seriously, like Philip Guston and Julian Schnabel.‘It’s also interesting to look at contem-porary painters, and if you do, I can tell you some favourites. Of course I like Guston – his paintings are it – the profile of MF, his dog, and that lamp stand, but I can’t like work that looks somewhat like his. But [Guston] is something else, and the risk he took with his figuration was huge and the images spectacularly right. Schnabel’s Humpty Dumpty painting, and his work on Japanese theatre backdrops, has always been worth it – and he’s good at the big dramatic gesture – and of course I see his films. I usually pick a few paintings from a few artists, like say, four works from Karen Kilimnick – particularly her Palomino Pony, which is very small, and which I saw at the Serpentine, and then see the others in terms of that – I like her attitude. And then Canute (Caliste), but he’s dead… some of his paintings I saw reproduced in the paper I really liked looking at. Who else? Kerry James Marshall did four large tarpaulin paintings I saw at the Camden Arts Centre, which I’ve always remembered – they were nicely joined with tarpaulin seams, which they would be, and on black I think. Also Jonathan Meese’s Boiler Room picture was good, and his show at Stuart Shave with paintings and sculpture and unmounted paper work stuck on the windows. And Tal R – The Cousins, his attitude, and his sculpture show at Victoria Miro.’
Roy Oxlade's painting has been Rose Wylie's companion ever since he has. They taught together at the summer school he held in the old art building on Monson Road, Tunbridge Wells. As Peter Fuller said: ‘I soon formed the view that Roy and Rose were two of the most original and challenging teachers of art that I had come across.’ There is a lot of Matisse in their house, but Wylie can be disarmingly frank when it comes to what she sees as Picasso's contrivances. Curiously for a painter who works with what one assumes to be unabashed spontaneity, Wylie bases some of her pictures on those of the old masters, like Lucas Cranach the Younger.‘I like stuff from a long time ago – Spanish still life, early Renaissance and ancient painting, and those unknown Herculaneum artists. But Cranach, though apparently unlike me, is metaphysical… and anyway, I like differences from me, and contrast and clarity, which he has. Plus I see myself as a bit metaphysical. The idea that my paintings are about unabashed spontaneity is wrong… can’t you see by looking at them? Perhaps they’re both there: spontaneity and objectivity. My drawings are very considered and specific and they usually are the basis of my paintings. Spontaneity and deliberation, I hope, come together. My painting is a big drawing – but with the lumpiness of paint.’
Rose Wylie's work has an uncanny immediacy. Her paintings are remarkably physical without relying on gestural clichés. Every studio is a mystical place and, in some cases, a hugely private place. Wylie has her own facilitating methods that might strike some as peculiar, like the stacking of new, unstretched paintings one atop the other on the studio floor, creating a kind of many-layered plateau that warns off any feet but her own. Wylie's painting has steadfastly propelled itself into the collective self-consciousness of our time, so much so that her imagery is now acknowledged to have surpassed the considerations of any one culture. The very particular universality of her imagery – and the way in which it is painted – has brought back into focus the primary instinct to express one's vision of the world in the most immediate terms.
The singular beauty of Rose Wylie's painting is its singular strength. The power at work in the mysterious world of association is an enigmatic force, but it is not an inscrutable force. Time and its determination to posses the moment is irrelevant. Something else exists that envelopes us. If I look long enough at one of Rose Wylie's paintings, my mind clears, I begin to see anew. Memory, in its confounding slipperiness, can be fixed for long moments by these images. Memory is disarmed, sensation replenishes itself. The bargain is sealed without negotiation between the two.
Marcus Reichert is a painter and filmmaker based in France
Rose Wylie is represented by the Union Gallery, London E2 6PU. All images courtesy of the artist and Jari Lager, Union Gallery