Figure Head shows a woman poised like a mermaid at the helm of a ship. The work’s title is emblazoned beneath her feet in Rose Wylie’s characteristic lettering. Yellow, pink and green dabs of paint stand out against the unprimed canvas in-between the letters. These dabs are where the artist has wiped her brushes, acting as a record of her process.
Figure Head is part of a larger series of works Wylie began in 2015 at the invitation of Ben Borthwick, Artistic Director of Plymouth Art Center, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the famous Mayflower ship setting sail from Plymouth for America in 1620.
A selection of Wylie’s notes on the painting are reproduced below:
Sailing boats and ‘women-in-front’ (figure heads here) seem a current position – and carved women offer different possibilities than from real.
The first (of these two “figure head” paintings) was picked up from an earlier Nicole Kidman painting I’d made, (Black Gown,NK), but stretched into impossible body proportion and connection, dangling small legs off the edge of a very elongated small green skirt. She appears visionary, stuck-in flicked-out yellow, a hopeful Joan of Arc for the sailors behind.
The question was whether to paint-on outlines, etc. – but the answer was to leave it alone, …
Wylie is best known for creating colourful, large-scale, figurative paintings that are intelligent, funny, and quietly political. These are usually made from memory and draw on a wide range of cultural references from history, fashion and cinema, to mythology, sport and literature. The thread linking these fields is her interest in how images evolve and accumulate meaning – becoming familiar, iconic and part of the narrative of popular culture and wider history.
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