Installation artist Cornelia Parker explains why she finds Rose Wylie so inspiring
I first came across Rose’s paintings in 1997 whilst serving on the Arts Council Collection purchasing committee. Immediately taken by their youthful brio, the eclectic subject matter and the brilliant use of colour, I was truly amazed to find that she was born in 1934. Isobel Johnstone and I visited her studio in her country cottage in Sittingbourne, Kent (which she still shares with her husband painter Roy Oxlade). As admirers, we went to look at a body of recent work with possibility of acquiring something for the collection. For me as a fellow artist, unused to being in such a position of power, it felt a rare and privileged thing.
A slight figure with a wild, yet stylish mop of thick greying hair and flamboyant make-up, met us at the door. Ushering us in to her world, where every room seemed to be annexed as a studio, evidence of chaotic painterly activity everywhere, the division between art and life seemed completely blurred. Over the next couple of hours we were entranced by her otherworldly persona, all childlike giggles and digressions and her somewhat arch eccentric style.
She painted on large un-stretched canvas laid out on the floor, her footprints contributing to the compositions as she worked in the round. The paintings recording a kind of marathon dance, one that wanted to leave the canvas and carry on into the room. She tended to paint right up to the edges, and later glued the canvas onto a larger one so there was something to attach to the stretcher. If she didn’t like an element in the painting she just collaged another patch of canvas on top and carried on. Her imagery and composition was bold, chaotic, seemingly naive, but at the same time knowingly channelling Guston, Basquiat and Schnabel. The paintings largely populated by animals and colourful characters sampled from many sources, magazines, newspapers, films and even football on the TV. I envied her freedom, her lack of inhibition and confidence in allowing such a disparate cast of characters the chance to share the same stage. (In contrast in my own work, which is similarly peripatetic, I separate out my concerns into discrete works that can be grouped together in ever-varying combinations).
Since then we have had an on-going dialogue; I nominated her for the Paul Hamlyn Award in 1998 (she was awarded one finally in 2011). My husband Jeff McMillan curated some exhibitions in his project space, Pearl in Shoreditch, in 2002 he included her in a group painting show, Reverse Engineering. More recently I served on the RA panel of the Chantrey Bequest that purchased one of her paintings for the Tate collection.
A few months ago I went to her opening at the Union Gallery in Bethnal Green, several large canvases overpowering a small space. Rose on great form, was wearing a bulldog clip in her unruly hair, her customised cardigan sporting a familiar dash-dash motif in hand-sewn stitches, echoing those in her paintings. Her improvised shoulder pads – rolled up tissues – kept falling out. She is a true original, a national treasure.