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Rose Wylie: Quack Quack at Serpentine Galleries, London
December 15, 2017
Making it as an artist seems like a young person’s game, built only for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduates. But when it comes to the British painter Rose Wylie – all bets are off. Wylie’s breakout moment came in 2014 when she won the illustrious John Moores Painting Prize aged-80, proving that talent really doesn’t have an expiry date and the art world is a tough nut to crack. Suddenly, Wylie was catapulted to a new league of international notoriety and joined the stable of noted artists represented by the powerhouse gallery David Zwirner. Now, Wylie is back in London for what feels like her victory lap with a solo exhibition called Quack Quack at Serpentine’s Sackler Gallery.
The joyful paintings on the walls of the Sackler could be cut from the pages of a colouring book or an edition of the Beano. They are mischievous, cruelly comic and look like they came from the hand stuck in your child’s paint box. But under those layers of bright colour and slashes of paint, Wylie’s work is hugely complex, covering all manner of subjects from Nicole Kidman’s paparazzi photos to Wylie eating a chocolate biscuit. For an artist that has seen a few sunrises and sunsets, there is something still endlessly wide-eyed and curious about this show.
Several of the works in the exhibition look to Hyde Park itself for inspiration. Having lived near Kensington Gardens during the Blitz in the 1940s, returning to the park was a strange trip down memory lane for Wylie. In new paintings such as ‘Park Dogs & Air Raid’ the park takes centre stage with Spitfires colliding mid-air and careering to the ground over dogs playing in the long grass. While in ‘Park Duck’ Wylie laments the loss of green public spaces with an enormous feathery duck in her playful ‘colouring book’ style. ‘Quack Quack’ indeed.
For Wylie, pop culture has always been at the heart of her raucous painting style and this exhibition is no different with film stills from Syriana, Volver and even Tarantino’s Kill Bill slapped across the Sackler walls. But it’s less their content and more their arrangement of colour that draws Wylie back time and again to movies, art history and fashion photography. Even football is fair game with the bright uniforms and banners of Arsenal and West Ham facing off, and icons Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch and Thierry Henri in the painting ‘Yellow Strip’. Wylie herself appears in the show as a buxom tennis player, smashing winning shots across court like Dennis the Menace and a fleshy, dancing figure on a sky of crimson stars in ’Pink Skater, (Will I Win, Will I Win)’.
Unconventional to the last, this exhibition marks Wylie out as one of the high flyers of contemporary British art. And while it seems life really does start at 80 for some, we shouldn’t focus on the art world’s obsession with youth or even why Wylie has been in career Siberia for so long. In a world of messy beds and severed cows in formaldehyde, we should just revel in the joys of good, clean, fun painting.
Words by Claire Philips
Rose Wylie: Quack Quack, at Serpentine’s Sackler Gallery, London, until 11 February 2018