Dame Paula Rego is a London-based Portuguese visual artist who is celebrated for her influence on modern figurative painting in Britain and Portugal. Her contemporary paintings and prints convey feminist counter-narratives interlaced with references to Portuguese folk culture and children's stories.Read More
Born and raised in Portugal, Paula Rego moved to London in the 1950s and studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. During the 1960s she exhibited with the School of London group alongside artists including Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, and David Hockney. Her early collages and large-scale paintings were surreal and abstract, such as the busy, colourful The Firemen of Alijo (1966) and bold A Madrastra (1970).
Paula Rego's later figurative paintings and prints, executed in a distinct magical realist style that combines smooth tones with confident lines, belong to an expressive visual storytelling tradition. They launch from real and imagined stories into complex narratives played out by an unusual cast of people and animals.
Inspiration for the figures and narratives in Paula Rego's artworks comes from a broad range of sources, including characters in children's stories and nursery rhymes—from Little Red Riding Hood to Snow White—as well as classic literature, mythology, and real-life events and personal experiences.
Evoking traditional fables and iconography Rego's characters are often female, and often anthropomorphic. Typically set within implicitly or explicitly domestic spaces, the narratives these characters enact are complex, often confronting, and deeply psychological. They explore darker aspects of human relationships, particularly within families, with a focus on female roles.
There is a disquieting tension and uneasy ambiguity generated in these depicted family microcosms in which psycho-sexual intrigue and taboo stir under the surface. Through her appropriated characters Rego twists the narratives ingrained in our cultural collective consciousness, challenging their prevailing idyllicism and institutionalised ideas of female behaviour. In Rego's re-imagining of popular tales the women, disobedient and abrasive, can play both the abuser and the abused.
In her later works, while continuing to explore ideas of femininity Paula Rego's interest in pastels comes to the fore. Paula Rego's drawings, paintings, and prints are regularly exhibited all around the world and can be found in major public collections such as The National Gallery, London; Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Portugal; Tate, London; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In 2009 Casa das Histórias Paula Rego ('House of Stories Paula Rego')—a museum dedicated to the work of Paula Rego as well as her late husband Victor Willing—was opened in Cascais, Portugal. The following year, Rego was made a Dame of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours, and also won Madrid's prestigious MAFRE Foundation Drawing Prize.
Obedience and Defiance, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2019); Paula Rego, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Paris (2012); Paula Rego, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2007); Paula Rego, Tate Liverpool (1996); Tales from the National Gallery, The National Gallery, London (1991); Casa de Serralves, Serpentine Gallery, London (1988); Paula Rego, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (1988).
All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, Tate Britain, London (2018); Never Never, Aberystwyth Arts Centre (2012); Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2008); Metamorphing, Science Museum, London (2002); Turner Prize 1989, Tate Britain, London (1989); Portuguese Art since 1910, Royal Academy of Art, London (1978); London Group 1963, Art Federation Galleries, London (1963).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020