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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

'Billie Piper’s in the Bar!

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    25 Nov

    A blonde, rake-handed women is painted across an un-stretched canvas, collaged with paper and staples.  She is ‘Billie Piper’ by Rose Wylie and is one of our exciting recent acquisitions in the New Hall Art Collection.

    Rose Wylie is one of the hottest painting stars in the UK.  But it’s taken a long time to get there. Like so many artists in our collection, her artistic career has been punctuated and interrupted by life’s journey. 

    Wylie went to Dover Art School in the 1950s, and married Roy Oxlade (1929-2014) in 1957. When their children were born, his painting career came before hers.  She is matter-of-fact and will not indulge in self-pity or regret; indeed she has none. ‘You can’t have two painters in the family when you have children’ she explained to me recently.  Painters need space, time, reassurance; all things a new parent sees disintegrate in the first weeks after birth.

    In 1981, when she was in her late 40s, Wylie went back to study at the Royal College of Art. In the last decade, she has seen her stars align, becoming one of the most sought after painters in the UK. Perhaps it was those years away from the canvas that makes Wylie so prolific and her work seem so urgent today.  Collected widely both for museum and private collections her recent solo shows include the inaugural exhibition of the Jerwood Gallery Hastings in 2012, a Tate focus show in 2013 and this year Turner Contemporary (Margate) and Chapter (Cardiff).  In 2011 she won the Paul Hamlyn Award and in 2014 won the John Moores Painting Prize and was elected a Royal Academician.

    Her style appears so loose and free that a gallerist described it as ‘unhinged’. “It’s tight!”, Wylie quipped back. Rose is now in her 80s, but her style is as free as a child’s.  Her work is witty, pithy, sometimes messy, and tantalisingly bold.  References from popular culture and films infiltrate her subjects, some obscure and some whipped straight from a newspaper article or a glossy magazine, like our own Billie Piper.

    I visited Rose in March last year. Her low-ceilinged ancient house revolves around her work and a cat.  The only room from which the cat is banned is an upstairs studio. Up those stairs, shut in her studio, she is energetic and exacting.  Her tiny frame is bolstered by the scrunched up balls of paper she wears stuffed in the shoulders of her cardigan. She dabs and sways across enormous canvases, often working on two at a time, on the wall and on the floor.  Canvases might be added to, sections stitched or stuck, or (as with Billie), stapled, until it feels right.  This patching and recycling goes beyond her art works. She is anti-materialist. Everything is recycled, re-used, and worn until it falls apart. She calls herself a ‘radical non-consumer’. 

    It was this visit in March that led to Rose’s wonderful donation to the collection.  Billie Piper has been resident in Rose’s house in Kent in different guises for some time and the work comes direct from her kitchen wall, cat hair included!  This week, David Zwirner Gallery and Union Gallery hosted a dinner for her friends and supporters, where I was I was able to show her images of Billie Piper hung in our bar. "Smashing!", she said. 

    We are honoured to have a work by Rose Wylie in Murray Edwards College. You can read more about what Rose has to say about the work on the label…

    Go and hang out with Billie in the Bar; you might like her. 


    Eliza Gluckman, Curator, New Hall Art Collection, Murray Edwards College

    November 2016