From the Winter 2016 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.
Rose Wylie’s front door looks as if it may not have been opened for years. A hand-painted sign above the lintel, just legible, instructs tradesmen to use the side entrance. Concluding that journalists might fall into that category, I turn to find the appropriate access when Wylie opens the door and welcomes me in. She is slight and striking, with chopped steel-grey hair. Her woolly clothes somehow manage to be stylish, and she trails a scent of vanilla.
Inside the 17th-century brick house, the space teems with purpose, each room running into the next, fluid and untrammelled. Books spill from shelves; papers, postcards, bottles, jars cover surfaces. Jasmine has found its way through the skylights in the dining-room, tumbling down
in abundance. The long, rampant woodland garden is more dell than parterre, foliage almost enclosing the house.
“When the grass gets long I flatten it by treading on it,” says Wylie, picking her way along a brick path which featured in a painting My Son, My Son, What have you Done, from 2011, a homage to the Werner Herzog film. Her eclectic inspirations include Almodóvar and Tarantino, as well as Egyptian art, Pompeii, fashion, jewels, regalia, uniforms. She has also painted, less typically since pastoral is not her usual mode, the field with sheep beyond the garden in a work called Willow Tree (2015). “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 has lived in this corner of rural Kent, surrounded by orchards, for nearly half a century. She and her husband, the artist Roy Oxlade, raised their three children here, having met as students at Goldsmiths. He died in 2014. Wylie, 81, now lives alone. She works prodigiously:
“It’s always difficult, but the compelling demands of painting keep you at it.” Today her star is in the ascendant. She won the 2014 John Moores Painting Prize, and was awarded the Charles Wollaston Prize for “most distinguished work” in this year’s Summer Exhibition, following her election as an RA earlier this year. Recently she showed at Frieze and is now showing in Berlin, and next year exhibits at Chapter in Cardiff and Margate’s Turner Contemporary.