Rose Wylie: Rosemount (Coloured) (1999) After growing up during the Second World War painter Rose Wylie studied at the Folkstone and Dover School of Art, taking a twenty year break to raise her family before graduating from the Royal College of Art with an MA in the early nineteen eighties (RA250).Throughout her work Wylie draws her initial inspiration from a multitude of different sources such as film, art history, literature, the news and the lives of celebrities. Many of her pieces, including, Kill Bill (Film Notes) (2007) and Jack Goes Swimming (Jack) (2013), are inspired by film. Her current exhibition Quack Quack (2017-18) Exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, covers many of these subjects as well as exploring her memories of her early life living in Kent, England.
After walking around the exhibition I was most drawn to the painting Rosemount (Coloured) (1999), a large landscape painting showing a childlike map of Wylie’s home from 1940-1944. This painting is about Wylie’s life in Kent where she lived as a child, moving from London to try and escape the damage of the Second World War. London was left partially flattened, many people did not survive staying in London during these times.
I was drawn to the story behind the painting and it’s relation to some of the theories written about in Art in Theory 1900-1990. (Harrison & Wood, 1992). In an article for the Guardian, Jonothan Jones talks about the contrast between the childlike style of Wylie’s work and the darker themes that hide behind them. He cites the piece Jack Goes Swimming (Jack) (2013) as an example, saying how at first glance the painting is bright, but upon further analysis he concludes that the character seems in pain, hunched over with a potential scar trailing down his back (Jones, 2017). These darker themes behind a seemingly childlike painting can also be seen in Rosemount (Coloured) (1999). When I first viewed Rosemount (Coloured) (1999) I saw the painting as a bright map of Wylie’s childhood home, littered with memories, however looking further into the painting you can see what appear to be bombs painted in red, a colour often associated with violence, as well as a large black block that represents her home. This use of dark blocks of colours that contrast with the bright background could be telling of how the war overshadowed her childhood.
In addition, Hans Ulrich Obrist, in Quack Quack writes that the black is a reference ‘to wartime blackouts and suggestive of missing passages of memory’ (Blanchflower, M & Gryczkowska, A & Larner, M, 2017 p.21). This interpretation of the house is interesting because this interpretation of the painting could also link to the text in Art in Theory 1900-1990 when Craig Owens writes ‘incomplete -fragments or runes which must be deciphered’ when he is referring to the work of Brauntuch (Harrison & Wood, 1992, p.1054) . I think that the idea of deciphering the elements of painting’s is hugely relevant when looking at the work of Rose Wylie because many of her pieces contain great depth and layers of meaning. This is particularly relevant to Rosemount (Coloured) (1999). Many of Wylie’s pieces in the Quack Quack (2017-18) exhibition are about memories and the fragmentation that happens to memories over time. On the right hand side of Rosemount (Coloured) (1999), you can see what I have interpreted as one of Wylie’s memories; symbolized by the eye, the straight lines leading your eye towards what could be a Zeplin or plane above.
There is also a face which I think represents Wylie’s memories of staring out of taped windows, something often done during the war to help prevent glass shattering if bombs hit. These images overlaying the painting could be seen to represent the portrayal of Wylie’s fragmented memories. In Quack Quack (2017) Alvaro Barrington talks about Wylie’s style of painting and how she works, saying “the image is the sole focus, making the paintings more a stage than a picture plane concerned with space, light etc” (Blanchflower, M & Gryczkowska, A & Larner, M, 2017, p.38). I think that this supports the Art in Theory 1900-1990 text because it adds to the idea that you have to decipher the elements of the painting, the lack of concern for light and space lends itself to the way Wylie paints her memories and other elements in. Barrington also talks of how he can “see her walking around her studio, working, looking, touching, cutting, pasting, making.
” (Blanchflower, M & Gryczkowska, A & Larner, M, 2017, p.38). I think that this is evident from looking at her work, you feel a sense of immediacy, the way she cuts and sticks pieces of canvas over parts she doesn’t like, layering canvases together.
Although Rosemount (Coloured) (1999) doesn’t have any extra pieces of canvas, I think that the adding and taking away of elements goes hand in hand with Wylie’s representation of her memories. Her expressive brush strokes play a huge part in this look of urgency in her work, however I feel that the apparent sense of immediacy in these brush strokes is a huge contrast to the reality of how they are created.Talking to the Royal Academy blog Wylie said: I paint what I can see. This is what I see. It takes me a long time to do it, though people think it looks easy. This willow tree for example took weeks to get right.
(Wylie to Maddocks, 2016). Wylie works with thick layers of oil paint meaning that in reality these intense marks would have taken weeks to dry and go over. In Art in Theory 1900-1990 Craig Owens discusses the idea that Brauntuch’s images simultaneously proffer and defer a promise of meaning; (..
.) our desire that the image be directly transparent to its signification. As a result they appear strangely incomplete- fragments or runes which must be deciphered. (Harrison & Wood, 1992, p.1054) I think this idea of work needing to be deciphered relates hugely to the work of Rose Wylie. Looking at works like Choco Lebniz (2006); a painting inspired by politics and the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s critique of the country’s diet (Quack Quack Exhibition Guide, Serpentine Galleries, 2017), the initial inspiration is near impossible to realize without reading the exhibition guide, which explains the ideas and inspirations behind the paintings in the exhibition. While I feel that the ideas behind Rosemount (Coloured) (1999) are slightly more obvious than that of Choco Lebniz (2006), I still found myself trying to decipher the intended meaning, a task that felt onerous without reading the exhibition guide.
Talking to Frieze for the article 8 Painters on Painting, Wylie speaks about the ‘readability’ of her paintings: it’s not the subject matter that needs to be known about- that doesn’t matter. It is more the objects/things/persons that need to be recognized, felt and understood. (Wylie, 2014, p.98) Reading this changed my original understanding of how Wylie views her own work.
Talking to the Guardian, Wylie has said that The painting isn’t about something. I think lots of people don’t understand that. They think it’s the message, which it isn’t. The message is the painting. The painting is the painting. (Sherwin, 2017) Which, initially to me meant that her paintings had no depth meaning, that she didn’t want people to analyze them too deeply. However after reading what she wrote in Frieze (Wylie, 2014, p.
98). I now understand that Wylie believes that it is the initial subject matter which inspires her to do the painting that is not important, that she believes that looking into the final product and then deciphering it is most important. Immediately after viewing Rosemount (Coloured) (1999) I was interested in the story and ideas behind it, however after looking into Wylie’s work and reading Art in Theory 1900-1990 (Harrison & Wood, 1992) I have realized that it is not necessarily the initial inspiration that is important. Potentially the most interesting part about Rosemount (Coloured) (1999), as well as the other paintings in Quack Quack (2017-18, Serpentine Sackler Gallery) Exhibition is looking into the individual elements and interpreting them. Rosemount (Coloured) (1999) is indeed about Wylie’s childhood in Kent but it is the smaller details that make the painting. It is looking at the blacked out house, the red bombs and other elements like the notations and the fences that make this painting truly interesting. In this respect I agree with the passage from Art in Theory 1900-1990 simultaneously proffer and defer a promise of meaning; (.
..) our desire that the image be directly transparent to its signification.
As a result they appear strangely incomplete- fragments or runes which must be deciphered. (Harrison & Wood, 1992, p.1054) As well as the narrative making the painting, the physical paint is also important, the viscosity of the paint and how the immediacy of the brush strokes are a contrast to the time they take to make and dry. Wylie’s work is, in my opinion, all about the details, both physical and in the narrative.