Trish Wylie presents a solo exhibition of new work examining female stereotypes and the perception of ageing in Western society, by reimagining the traditional hero of iconic Cowboy movies and putting her own image into the frame.
At a time in history when women around the world have risen up to take control of their own destinies, culminating in the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, which drew bigger crowds than the inauguration of U.S. President Trump, and was echoed in cities all over the globe, many artists including Wylie are channeling this post-feminist energy into their practice.
Wylie’s exhibition ‘I Rose Madder’, takes its name from a self-portrait of the artist as a Cowboy, with sensual drips of oil paint softening the hard outline of the hero figure. The dominant pigment in the painting is Rose Madder, a ‘fugitive’ colour that changes tone with time, and a wry comment on the stereotypical use of pink to represent girls. This use of pink in marketing surrounds females from the moment they are born, and was ironically adopted by many Women’s March protestors in the form of pink ‘Pussy hats’.
‘I Rose Madder’ is a play on words, a metaphor for the artist still being a force to be reckoned with after having been through the menopause, and the guise of the Cowboy demonstrating a hard exterior disguising a softer interior psyche. Coincidentally, ‘Rose Madder’ is also a character in a Stephen King novel whose heroine Rosie Daniels wakes up to the chilling realisation that her husband is going to kill her, and flees to a strange city to build a new life. Maddened and on the rampage, Rosie is continually looking over her shoulder for fear of her cop husband tracking her down.
Wylie explains: “I Rose Madder is a play on words, a metaphor for being a women over 60. I’m not going to disappear because I’m getting older.” One portrait features the artist in Cowboy dress on a supersize painterly version of the Oyster card, a comment on being granted free public transport at the age of 60. Two of the self-portraits are titled ‘Anima’ and ‘Animus’: ‘Anima’ features a smiling, soft looking Wylie in a rose-tinted palette, whilst ‘Animus’ is a moody self-portrait, eyes disguised by her tilted cowboy hat, in a dark palette. Anima and Animus are terms used to describe the latent male and female parts of our unconscious minds, from which we are often disconnected. Animus is the archetype of reason and spirit in women, the male aspect of the female psyche, whilst anima is the female aspect of male psyche. Anima is much more than the sexual and psychological aspects. It is relational. That is, the anima archetype rules over the relationship between men and women. Wylie’s ‘Anima’ and ‘Animus’ self-portraits represent her Yin and Yang, the 2 halves of her psyche that together create her whole being. Yin and Yang also representing the starting point for change, and the splitting up of 2 the whole upsetting equilibrium.
Much of the exhibition references Jungian Theory - Carl Jung’s practice of analytical psychology, which he described thus in order to distinguish it from Freud’s practice of psychoanalysis. Wylie explains: “A lot of the work is about the Jungian Theory of anima and animus/ Ying and Yang. Exploring female psyche using traditionally ‘girly’ colour to create a masculine image.”
The exhibition will feature 9 large-scale oil paintings including a 12-foot canvas, and 2 large format graphite pencil drawings. All the paintings are self-portraits drawn from photographs of Trish posing as a Cowboy, taken by Harriet MacSween and Karl Slater. Wylie starts off by projecting the photograph onto a large canvas. Her paintings have a Pop Art aesthetic but without the hard edges. She was taught at her Alma Mater Camberwell school of Art to look at colour in an impressionist way, and this training still resonates in her practice.
Wylie explains: “I start off with a projector projecting the photo of me onto the canvas. Then the painting begins to take on a life of its own. I want it to be sensual. Painting for me is such a physical, sensual thing.”
There are echoes of Cindy Sherman who has been putting herself into the frames of her photographic self-portraits disguised as various characters from cinema, and Gillian Wearing, whose recent joint exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery features self-portraits confronting ageing and airbrushing, with the late feminist-surrealist Claude Cahun, who was a pioneer of taking on sexually fluid personas in her photography. Wylie’s free use of dripping paint, and her candy-coloured palette, evoke the photography of Boo Ritson who covers her subjects in luscious dripping paint before photographing them.
Cowboy movies are the overriding influence on Wylie’s art, and the Country and Western genre in TV and Cinema has been in her blood from a young age. She explains: “I was born in the mid- 50s when people started to get TVs. I came from a big family of 10 and loved watching Western movies with my brothers. I loved TV and cinema and have been in love with it ever since. My first words were ‘GeeGee. Fury Cheyenne. Bang!’ I’ve always been interested in composition and I love film. I look at how the camera captures images and translate it into a painting. “
Cheyenne was the name of a 1947 Western, directed by Raoul Walsh, featuring a slick gambler apprehended by the law and given the option to forgo a prison sentence if he poses as a bandit.
Wylie’s new paintings are influenced by iconic Cowboy films such as; Lonesome dove (1989), Kung Fu (72-75), Maverick (57-62) and Bonanza (59-73).
The films of John Ford, Sergio Leone and Akita Kurosawa have been a huge influence on Wylie’s practice, and Sir Christopher Frayling, Rector of the Royal College of Art from 1996 to 2009, has championed her work since the early stages of her career when she was painting from Sergio Leone movies.
Frayling commented in an early Trish Wylie catalogue: “Trish Wylie takes individual moments from great Western movies – and other movies – not necessarily the best-known ones – and gives them a big presence on the wall: presence in terms of concept, scale, colour and technique. She seems particularly drawn to post-1950s Westerns, which were already becoming selfconscious about the old myths and aware of themselves as films in dialogue with other films, sites of second order meanings rather than first order meanings.
Her paintings take this process one stage further, by re-mythologizing the old frames of film and turning them into hallowed events. Bigging them up again. Something like Campbell’s Soup Cans, only more so, more painterly, and starting with images that were mythic in the first place rather than stacked on supermarket shelves.”
Wylie’s new paintings still refer to Country and Western movies, but now put the Western into the context of modern feminity. Some of the new canvases evoke the shape of a cinema screen, using the technical spec of an anamorphic lens. Anamorphic format is the cinematography technique of shooting a widescreen picture on standard 35 mm film, or other visual recording media with a non-widescreen native aspect ratio.
For several paintings from the ‘I Rose Madder’ series, Wylie has designed the canvas specifically to replicate the letterbox style projections and aspect ratio of the early Western films shot using “anamorphic” lenses, thereby stretching the image vertically before “desqueezing” the image along the horizontal forcing the portrait composition to be tightly contained within the frame.
The result is a beautifully “filmic” composition in several of the paintings, which offers the viewer an invitation to question what is hidden beyond and around the portrait itself.
Through the cinematic use of letterbox “Anamorphic” aspect ratio frames and composition, Wylie’s work imposes the visual essence of the Western genre’s epic-scape cinema. The unique aesthetic and visual impact of anamorphic framing involves the viewer directly with the character, as well as inviting to imagine what is beyond the foreground and indeed the frame.
In this way her work and more specifically the choice of framing (aspect ratio) as well of course the genre draws on the “organic” visual arts, tangible film as opposed to the often-soulless computer generated digital representations that populate contemporary arts.
Wylie uses typography in many of her paintings based on the font used in Country and Western movies. The title sequences and graphic design of Iginio Lardani introduced the world to a visual language and titling format that would become synonymous with B-movie bravado and Western film.