Paula Rego

Lisboa, 1935 – Londres, 2022

Drawing has provided the constant underpinning for Paula Rego’s work, from the naive figuration during her years of training at the Slade School of Art to her political collages about a country under dictatorship, from narrative pieces in acrylic to large-format pastel works, and from studies in pencil and watercolour to etchings and aquatint images.

The constant thread running through the artist’s work is the imaginary reinvention of the literature of authors such as Charlotte Brontë, Eça de Queiroz, Franz Kafka, Hans Christian Andersen and Martin McDonagh. Rego seeks to “integrate eternal stories into our contemporary mythology and subjective experience through painting”. Rego creates an utterly original figurative language based on those stories, be they traditional tales, fairy tales, novels or plays.

The models for the main characters in Rego’s pictorial tales are people from the artist’s own inner circle or childish and grotesque three-dimensional “dolls” that she makes and incorporates into symbolic and fantastical scenes.

Painted from direct observation, the models portray individual feelings and trauma, but also collective and female ones, especially in the “Abortion” series, a political manifesto addressing Portugal’s first referendum on the voluntary termination of pregnancy. Rego’s vivid paintings offer a haunting portrait of contemporary society and, at the same time, human nature itself.

Lígia Afonso
[Plano Nacional das Artes and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian]
Curator, teacher and researcher born in Lisbon in 1981
Text originally written for Google Arts & Culture apropos the exhibition “All I Want, Portuguese Women Artists from 1900 to 2020”, curated by Helena de Freitas and Bruno Marchand
© DR