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Rose Wylie at the Jerwood:

Art, poetry, and Quentin Tarantino

Rose Wylie is a woman to watch, according to a newspaper article by Germaine Greer. The newspaper quote arose out of the findings of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, that art galleries and museums around the world exhibited mostly men. Wylie is philosophical about the reason, as she explains to HOT’s Joe Fearn and Richard Hull.

“For centuries, men were the artists, from early cave painters onwards, so it’s not surprising.” She told Joe Fearn when he and photographer Richard Hull visited her at her studio in Kent.

I ask if she’s influenced by early art. “I’m influenced by everything,” Rose says with a smile, and asks if we would like some tea. Her studio is upstairs, but we talk for now in a downstairs studio, which currently houses some of her huge paintings.

“I like ancient art, such as that found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, also early Renaissance wall paintings, especially those featuring wonderfully simple, isolated elements. The painter sometimes painted from floor to ceiling. My paintings are stapled to the wall, not stretched, I like to feel I am working in the same idiom; I don’t see them as murals; I see them as coverage.  My paintings too are from floor to ceiling. I used to work with the canvas on the floor, walking on it to work on. I like to feel immersed in it. I also like Egyptian and African art, sometimes called primitive, but to me the painting is direct.”

I couldn’t help but notice the direct nature of a very large painting of a garage door with a brightly coloured flamingo in the foreground, which I asked about.

“That’s a scene from a very bleak film by Werner Herzog, called My Son, my Son, What Have Ye Done?’, slotted into classical Greek tragedy, and made contemporary, it’s  inspired by an actual event, a man begins to experience mystifying events that lead him to kill his mother with a sword. The central character, Brad, paints a picture on his garage door, and my painting is from my memory of what he’d painted.”

As Richard takes some photos, I ask Wylie if she often works from her memory of film scenes.

“Oh yes. I watch around three films a week. In fact, the Electric Palace Cinema in Hastings is going to show some of the films I have worked with.”

Wylie becomes quite intense when talking about her artwork.

“I like to sit watching a film and get completely ‘caught’ by a scene, such as the one featuring a garage door in Herzog’s film. I work with the image from memory; I don’t watch it again. I prefer to work back from memory, working with the moment, producing some change, perhaps, but in doing so I try and hitch the image back to the film.  I couldn’t just do an abstract version of it because that would not pay the ‘visual moment’ proper respect. This particular image had a cartoon quality, and therefore is light-hearted, the garage door features a lot in the film, with its ‘colouring-book’ look while the plot itself is very black in itself and in its references.”

I ask if she likes cartoons.

“I like South Park, the drawing is superb.”

Richard asks if she would like to collaborate with a film director.

“I would like to talk to Quentin Tarantino about his film Inglourious Basterds, which I enjoyed. He took a B film and made it into an A film. As for collaborating, I work from the film after it’s made, it would be difficult to work with him, I’m not an animator.”

I mention that I’d been to a life drawing class and found the artistic process to be almost identical to the process of creative writing. Rose readily agreed.

“Art and poetry have similarities. You can extend from what you do in poetry to understand what you might do as a visual artist. Sometimes only the ‘right’ word will work: it must have the right rhythm and ‘feel’. I might use a colour, but then have to change it many times till I think it’s right – which is probably a parallel process. T.S.Eliot’s point in East Coker about last year’s words needing to change for next year’s language is what artist’s do: you can’t keep doing the same thing.”

One of Wylie’s artworks is a favourite; she pulls away some other paintings and pieces of canvas covering it to reveal a big yellow painting, which features a World War Two flying bomb passing overhead. “I remember them,” Rose tells me, “Though I’d only be around nine years old at the time.” One tends to forget that Wylie is now in her seventies.

In a corner is a very big painting of a plant, with an image of a ticket showing the plant’s price of one thousand four hundred and ninety-nine pounds. Rose explains that she saw it at Faversham Garden Centre, and it stood around five and a half feet tall. Most other plants were pot plants, like pansies, in little trays, costing very little, so it stood out as a truly bizarre object. Wylie painted the image, which features a dog on which the figure of a hedge has been superimposed, entirely from memory, and says it also references a sculpture by Jeff Koons of a giant puppy dog made entirely of living flowers. Wylie notes that it would be interesting to see if Jerwood exhibited it together with her painting of the garage door, since one has a hedge, while the other features a tree painted in a similar way.

I ask Wylie how she feels about being the first person to be exhibited at the Jerwood. Rose says she is delighted and really pleased and reflects on a coincidence, she recalls how she was giving a talk to Annabel Tilley’s artists’ group in Hastings at the very moment the news broke that Hastings was to get the Jerwood gallery. She also recalls that she was shortlisted for the Jerwood painting prize some years ago, at the same time as Gary Hume and other Young British Artists, and had been in the Jerwood drawing prize. “It’s very exciting.”

It was time to view her studio. On the way up the stairs, Richard asks if she had always painted, and if her parents had been supportive.

“Yes, I’ve always painted, from a very early age I spent my pocket money on Winsor & Newton paints for my much loved paint-box, from a shop that sold little ceramic containers with the colour printed on their wrappers. I also ground up bricks to make my own pigment. My mother played the piano, she wasn’t really visual, and had a Victorian attitude about the female role. She thought that I should have some sort of training or degree, so that if I didn’t marry, I should have a ‘fall-back’, I could always become an artist.”

As we admired the creative space, Wylie shows us her venerable paint scraper, with its thick handle composed of many years of accumulated paint. The actual handle underneath the layers is quite thin. As I felt its weight in my hand, it felt like I was holding a holy relic.

Posted 15:52 Monday, Mar 12, 2012 In: Arts News

1 Comment

  1. Hastings Online Times

    […] Rose Wylie interview […]

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