Rose Wylie: 'I want to be known for my paintings – not because I'm old'

She didn’t get her break until her 70s, but the world now can’t get enough of Rose Wylie’s blissfully unruly paintings. On the eve of her solo Serpentine show, the artist shows our writer round her Kent cottage – then dabs her down with turps.

A lot has changed for Rose Wylie since Germaine Greer first praised her vast and blissfully unruly paintings in the Guardian seven years ago. Then the late-blooming artist was a new discovery and her unsold, unstretched canvases were stacked from floor to ceiling in the 17th-century Kent cottage that’s been her home for 50 years. When I arrange to meet her there, just before her new solo show opens at the Serpentine Sackler this month, I worry that there won’t be anything to see.

Over leftover birthday cake – Wylie has just turned 83 – she says that when it comes to the day-to-day business of creating drawings and paintings, little has altered. “I have the same carpenter making the stretchers. I put the glue on myself and cut the canvas. Everything is the same. They just used to pile up. Now they don’t.”
...Birdlike beneath a sharp, choppy bob, Wylie is by turns mischievous, serious and frank. Her work, meanwhile, is striking for its spontaneity, energy and freedom. Like Philip Guston or Jean-Michel Basquiat, her figures seem crudely wrought. If something goes wrong, she’ll happily just cut it out and patch over the canvas. “You do a bit and it’s horrible,” she says. “And you take it off and try it again.”

Often, a painting’s content is described on the canvas in blocky handwriting that is as much a part of the picture as the figures the words snake around or run into. Yet in both thinking and making, the process is slow and considered. “You can go on for about five hours doing just one little bit. It really can be...
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Mikayla Griego


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