Sunday, November 11, 2012

Artist Spotlight - Paula Rego

After nearly five years of blogging about art (with a few other things thrown in), I've finally come to a place where I'm comfortable with what and when to post. There have been many times when I've posted something just for the sake of posting something. Not that I felt those posts were insincere or irrelevant, just that I tried too hard to come up with something simply to give The Pagan Sphinx another breath in those times when I thought that perhaps I was done with it. I will probably continue to post quickies and assorted silliness now and then, though unattached to a particular schedule.

One of the ways I caged myself into posting was with regular weekly features such as The Friday Evening Nudes, creating a sort of obligation for myself that I provide a post every Friday evening. What hit me suddenly today when I found the work of Paula Rego was that the art has to crash upon me like a ton of bricks; leaving me no choice but to delve deliciously into image after image, selecting them like a kid chooses candy in a sweet shop.  If the reason for the post is my furious intensity with the subject, sharing it with you and enjoying your responses are often the height of the experience.

I began this post at 8:00 a.m. Sunday and worked on it off and on for the next three hours, stopping to get ready to meet a friend for lunch, coming home to give a small birthday party for my step-daughter's 28th birthday and resuming the compiling of this post. It's finally done and in creating it, I realized that I'm still not happy with it because there are things I left out in the interest of both time and an attempt to shorten the post itself.  I worry about having too much in a post that people don't have the time for. In any event, I hope you like the post, even if some of you may not have the time or inclination to read it, you may enjoy looking at the images and drawing your own conclusions.

Thank you for visiting.
All the love,
~ Gina

Paula Rego

Born in Lisbon, Portugal

Paula Rego in front of one of her paintings in the museum Casa das Histórias honoring her and her work.
Cascais, Portugal

Paula Rego's work reminds me of several other artists all at once. There is, in some earlier pieces, an element of Hopper. In others it's the influence of Picasso. There is more than a touch of Surrealism. Rego in fact used the Surrealist method of "automatic drawing" to create some of her earlier works.

   Rego is not afraid to tackle morose and even grotesque subject matter, at times delving  deeply into the taboos that frighten us the most. If tragedy can be beautiful as well as painful, Paula Rego can paint it in a way that feels completely genuine. Her intellectual and psychic preoccupations make us look deeper into ourselves. At least that is how I'm viewing her works overall, after having perused probably every image I've discovered to research this piece. 

It's a shame that while I was in Lisbon this summer, I was not able to get away from family priorities to visit Casa das Historias, the museum erected in her honor in 2009. The museum was designed by Portuguese architect Edwardo Souta de Moura. The red concrete of the building reminds me of the red clay tiles of Portuguese rooftops. Against the sky and trees, the architecture blends in well with its surroundings. A visit there is definitely planned for a future visit to Portugal. 

A Brief Biography

Paula Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935. Her father, an engineer, was relocated in 1936 to Britain  by the company he worked for. He and his wife left Paula to be raised by her grandmother until 1939. She grew up in a liberal family during the Salazar regime. Her parents were devout Anglophiles and Paula attended what was then the only English school in Portugal. In the 1950's, Paula's father encouraged her to attend The Slade School of Fine Art in London where she met her future husband Victor Willing, also an artist, whom she married in 1959.

Dividing her time between Portugal and London in the 1960's, Rego settled permanently in London in 1976. She continued to visit her childhood home in Ericeira, Portugal the home that was often depicted in Rego's paintings. When her husband became ill with multiple sclerosis, his nurse, a woman of Portuguese descent was to become Rego's favorite model.

Paula Rego's work began receiving important recognition somewhere after the 1990's in English, Portuguese and worldwide art circles. She began receiving many invitations by galleries and museums to produce work which she regularly took part in curating. In 1990, she was appointed the first Associated Artist of the National Gallery in London.

She lives and works in London and is represented by the Marleborough Gallery.

The Works of Paula Rego
(With Interpretative Details)

Salazar Coughing Up The Homeland

The Fitting

 Rego's paintings speak in an unmistakably female voice; one that sometimes looks deceiving at first glance but that eventually turns up messages through symbolic details. It is always a complex picture; its meaning purposefully or inadvertently masked. There are stories in these paintings, told from different points of view, with mind-bending configurations, such as the sitting figure in the image below - the head  of a mustached man with a stocky,   womanish body.

 The Maids


The above is a fascinating image. Its creation was inspired by the play The Maids by Jean Genet, which itself was based upon a real life event of two sisters Lea and Christine Papin, who brutally murdered their mistress and her daughter in Le Mans, France in 1933.  

The sitting figure of the employer suggests that there may have been dark family secrets in their employer's home that the maids were very much aware of.

The Policeman's Daughter

In the late 1980's Rego created a series of paintings exploring complex and often dysfunctional family relationships, particularly father-daughter relationships. 


"When I start a picture I have an idea in mind, but I'm also trying to find out things for myself; I want to know what a picture will tell me. Sometimes it won't be until years later that I will look at a painting and realise what I was trying to do."

Snow White Playing With her Father's Trophies

In Snow White Playing With her Father's Trophies, Rego uses familiar fairytale themes and injects them with specific childhood memories, creating a sort of dysfunctional folklore all her own. The white dress, the  mounted buck's head between her legs and the jealous stepmother depicted as a fetish-like ornament in the background create a mysterious story containing both familiar and puzzling elements. 

Rego herself  rejects sexual interpretations of her work, saying that she often doesn't fully recognize the meaning of certain objects she paints into a picture until long after she's completed a painting.

Paula Rego's women are frequently depicted as violent and beast-like and go against the grain of idealized womanhood. 

"I never portray women as victims in my pictures, mainly because I have never felt like one. Although I can sympathize with a man's position, or with his anguish, I just can't identify with it in the same way. But all women are alike, really." 

"I've needed an impulse from within, a lot of emotional energy to do this stuff, and a kind of desire. It's a very aggressive thing... It's not an aggression like you're hitting it; it's a sensual aggression, if you like."

 Celestina's House

"If there are seven ages of woman, as of man, then my Celestina has lived through at least thirteen."

O Embaixador de Jesus


Entre As Mulheres 
(Enter The Women)

"To find one's way anywhere one has to find one's door, just like Alice, you see. You take too much of one thing and you get too big, then you take too much of another and you get too small. You've got to find your own doorway into things..."


Paintings from 2000 to 2010

Most of what I've read in my research on Paula Rego focuses on her paintings of the 1980's and there is enough written about them. I found little information about her more current works. I haven't quite digested them and, to be honest, they don't have nearly the same impact on me as the paintings I began the post with. 

As the century turned, some of  Rego's works became increasingly more frightening, depicting scenes of infanticide, rape and abortion, among other horrors. The Red Monkey series from the 80's was grotesquely comical but these later paintings seem to me to take themselves too seriously, causing me to turn away but not really feel anything. I've chosen to keep those out of the post because even as I find them strangely fascinating, I don't particularly like them. Unlike the works of Frida Kahlo, expressing  similar themes, Rego's more disturbing works from the 2000's lack the conviction and personal tragedy that make Khalo's paintings so enduring. If you'd like to check them out, click this link.

The images that follow are ones from 2000 to around 2010 that to my interpretations, feel most truthful.  I leave you to your own  interpretations of the following. I believe Dame Paula Rego would approve!

from the Virgin Mary Series

The Cake Woman

The Shakespeare Room

 The Cigarette

Steering the Boat

The Doll's Playground


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