The work on show at Plus One Gallery juxtaposes his signature massive painted portraits, with small pencil drawings which mirror in miniature the painted images. Through the inherent difference of the mediums, Wylie plays on the power of reinterpretation to remind us that the real is never in stasis.
The artists repeated use of sitters in this show is intriguing. Although obviously the same sitter and similar in composition, each work creates a different perspective, and when placed together, become a poignant elegy to the notion of human existence in time.
The artist, amongst such distinctions as winning the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in 2008 and being commissioned by the NPG to paint Dame Kelly Holmes for their permanent collection, has consistently pursued the personal image of the face as an entry point. In his own words, he attempts to “isolate a kind of uninflected tension, borrowing the instantaneous from photography and extending it in time through painting, as if an infinitely vibrating chord.”
Wylie deliberately chooses an extraordinarily large scale and the ambiguous expression of his sitters to facilitate this idea. This combination of elements “allows the resultant works to operate as painting, giving the subtle marks and gradations of coloured paint space to reach their own pitch without being drowned out by the requirements of 'expression'.”
The use of photography as a starting point in the artist’s work comes after a long period of painting directly from life and is a nod to Gerhard Richter's notion of ideological distancing. Wylie then intentionally subverts this through the level of painterly engagement with his chosen image, making the works more visceral, with an existential bent, one more akin to the 'School of London' painters. He considers this apparent contradiction in his work as a necessary condition for its 'success' as painting. For instance – the initial impression of extreme physicality in the paintings, created by sheer scale and apparent verisimilitude are undermined at once by a lack of immediately obvious 'surface' and also by Wylie's practice of working directly from a laptop screen – combining both the inherent light of photography within the images he works from, and the actual light passing through those images from the back lit screen. This gives his paintings a unique range of colour and tone, creating an almost holographic or spectral quality to the appearance of his subjects, in contrast to their apparent robustness at first impression.
The subjects of this powerful show, Alan and Louis, sitters and friends of the artist, have become players in the drama whereby an idea of the infinite is perceived as simultaneous with that of the instant.