My heart gave a small leap for joy this morning when I heard the news that the artist Rose Wylie had won this year’s John Moores painting prize. Since it began in 1957, only three women have received the prestigious award – last year’s winner Sarah Pickstone, Lisa Milroy in 1989 and Mary Martin who won jointly with Richard Hamilton in 1969.
Gender bias in the art world is not news, but Wylie is distinguished not just by virtue of her sex, but by her age. After years of creating her distinctive and deceptively complex images, she has finally received recognition – and a £25,000 cheque – at the age of 80.
As the YBAs of the 1980s and 90s reach middle age and enjoy their wealth and respectability in the pages of Harpers Bazaar or the pantheon of the Royal Academy, I wonder if the true enfants terrible are those who rather than pursuing approbation in their youth, played the longer game and worked outside of the establishment we might be so desperate to be a part of when we are younger.
Tate Modern’s recent blockbuster exhibition of Matisse’s cut outs demonstrated that age need not be a barrier to creativity, but turn a corner on the next floor of the gallery and there are some outstanding prints by Louise Bourgeois completed when she was nearing her ninth decade. Bourgeois is probably the most celebrated example of an artist who continued working and, most importantly, continued to be recognised for the innovation, complexity and challenging nature of her work at a time of life when we are generally expected to be dusting off our slippers.
By its nature, the art world will always seek out the new, the thought-provoking and the rebel, but I think we are mistaken if we believe this is the preserve of youth. In this month’s issue the common thread of our contributors is that being ‘older’ can be liberating. Experience teaches us what is important and allows us to disregard the self-consciousness and self-doubt we may have when we are young and desperate to please and be accepted.
I believe Rose Wylie’s story is not of the struggling artist, plugging away in isolation waiting for their moment to be discovered, but of an individual untrammelled by the constraints and demands of art commerce and able to pursue an authentic practice. I congratulate Rose on her prize and commend her as a true radical.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.