Painterly brushstrokes of fleshy pink dance energetically along the side of the picture plane, forming an imposing profile of the artist herself peering across the canvas. The periphery of this monumental painting orbits around a crude, cartoon-like figure of a woman floating atop a powder blue triangle, which forms an elegant, albeit simplistic gown. This figure is flanked by the enormous self-portrait on one side and a grandiose velvet green curtain encroaching on the scene from the opposite side. The deep black backdrop melts, as if drawn by the forces of gravity, revealing the bare canvas below. Listening to Miss S is spontaneous and vibrantly colourful, simultaneously full of reference points and singing with ambiguity. It has all the hallmarks of Rose Wylie’s idiosyncratic collage-like approach to painting.
Having taken a long hiatus from the art world to raise her family, Rose Wylie emerged to international acclaim in her seventies. The artist’s trajectory refuses categorisation, she has never been part of a 'generation’ of artists, resulting in the development of her distinctly personal visual language. Her paintings, which are typically rendered in a monumental scale akin to billboards, or religious panels, brilliantly weave together a vast array of wildly disparate references, from medieval illuminated manuscripts, to Paul Cezanne’s “lumpy” early works, to the figure of Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar's 2006 film Volver. As the peering portrait of the artist in the present work reminds us; this is a painting all about looking.
The crude and colourful figures and objects that populate the picture plane of Listening to Miss S cast aside conventional hierarchies of classical painting. The figures are sourced from the artist’s memories, both personal and public, and transformed into paint through the filter of her recollection. In the words of the artist: “You spell like it sounds and paint like it looks. It’s the same thing. It is phonetic” (Rose Wylie cited in: Clarrie Wallis, Rose Wylie, London 2018, p. 10). It is this synthesis of highly personal memories of the artist’s immediate surroundings, and the collective visual culture of a shared consciousness, rendered with a tongue-and-cheek, down-to-earth spirit, which make Rose Wylie’s paintings so captivating.
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