Zimbabwean artist Craig Wylie

Zimbabwean artist Craig Wylie selected for Threadneedle Prize

Craig Wylie, Zimbabwean born artist and past winner of The BP Portrait Award, is famous for his super-realist portraits in bright tones. He has now been selected for The Threadneedle Prize on the basis of a dramatically different new body of work. Fellow Zimbabwean Artist Gordon Glyn-Jones caught up with him ahead of his solo show that opens in Liepzig on the 13th to talk about the new work. The Threadneedle Exhibition Show, which seeks to showcase the best contemporary figurative artwork being made in Europe, opens in London on the 24th of September

Zimbabwean artist Craig Wylie

What is the most difficult part of being a working artist?

For me, it’s keeping things simple. With the weight of history in painting, one can get overly analytical and kill off ideas before they’ve had a chance to develop. With so much information also accessible now, it’s sometimes hard to narrow things down, which is a completely necessary thing to do or one goes mad.

And the most joyous?

The initial impetus to make a painting and the finding of its resolution. Seeing an old painting again and thinking that it’s OK, is also pretty good.

You have returned to the figure from life in your new work. To what degree has this enriched the working experience?

Immensely. The conception of the work is a lot more open, with trial and error playing a bigger role, which makes the creation of the work at once more exciting and more pressured. Although more difficult, working with people in the flesh as opposed to a digital mirage is also much more rewarding. Using photography in the (my past,) deliberately machine-like way I did, meant that the work was pre-determined.

The current paintings are again open to change in the process, even quite radically at later stages. Essentially, the new process is back to a kind of freehand; analogue in a way, with a much softer, more elusive line involved than one typically gets using photographs. Part of the return to figure painting was also about reinvigoration of the surface of the work. I wanted something a little more organic, natural, and even awkward.

Your palettes have become significantly muted. Why did you feel this was necessary and what have you learned from the transition?

The more muted palette is simply due to painting from life and using naturally observed colours. In the photo-based works I deliberately used more acidic, saturated colours – in a way to counteract the flatness of the images. The colour made up for the lack of physicality in the source material. I suppose that’s in reverse now? I’ve certainly picked up a few more subtle variations in colour, using new colours to make cleaner, fresher variations of skin tone than I was using when last painting the figure from life. Also, I’ve developed a greater sense of what, in light of figure painting’s extensive historical baggage, may be required to actually add something to the genre (one hopes).

Blue Barrel
Blue Barrel

To what degree do you feel the need to create an original take on the tradition in the light of contemporaries such as such as Lucian Freud or Jenny Saville and so on?

To a large degree. It’s essentially the reason I stopped painting from life – the work was too close to Freud. I used photography as a distancing tool, which did work in way. In the end however, the photo-based works were always lacking enough of a certain un-foreseen painterly moment. I’ve now come to terms with my influences, seeing more clearly a different purpose which will allow me to push on, even if it is in close proximity.



In my encounters as an artist with the majority of friends and colleagues, there seems to be a universal fear of fine art and artists. What is your take on this phenomenon?

I think that is changing rapidly now. Accessibility and social responsibility have become the watchwords for public art institutions in the last decade. More people than ever go to art shows, public and private. Some of the private, commercial galleries do foster an elite image, this being tied to creating an aura of prestige to enable and encourage higher prices for gallery artists.

For artists, elitism is always a problem. No matter how democratic and accessible an artist tries to make their work, the market, by its nature, makes it exclusive at some point.
People through the ages have also always been suspicious of artists I think. It takes a certain separateness and independence, which doesn’t always go down well. And artists are pretty good at fostering this impression too, sometimes purely for self-preservation. People also misunderstand art, being fearful of appearing ignorant, consequently putting up barriers, when the truth is that art is a very simple affair really, it’s just that people think there is supposed to be more to it because of all the hype surrounding it.

You are shortlisted for the Threadneedle prize to be announced on the 23rd of September. How important are art competitions to an artist?

They can be significant in boosting an artist’s public image, and there are obviously big financial rewards which can help tremendously to create vital free time for art-making. Although, in the long run, I’m not sure that they are that important to an artist’s development.

What is the best days/venue for our readers to see your current work?

My solo show, ‘Snare’, is open in Leipzig, Germany, from the 13th of September to the 11th of October, and the Threadneedle Prize Exhibition runs from the 24th of September until the 11th October at the Mall Galleries in London. I also have a portrait of Dame Kelly Holmes (up) in the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery, London.

The Threadneedle Prize Show – Opens: 25 September – 11 October 2014 (Private View: 24 September 2014)
Location: Mall Galleries, The Mall (near Trafalgar Square) London SW1. www.threadneedleprize.com

For more on Gordon Glyn-Jones, visit: www.gordonglyn-jones.com

Check out more of Craig’s new work being launched at a solo show in liepzig this week: http://www.galeriedukan.com/exhibitionhome/craig-wylie-snare