Who was the famous Portuguese artist Paula Rego?

Quem foi a famosa artista portuguesa Paula Rego?

Who wasPaula Rego

Paula Rego passed away this Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at the age of 87. The Portuguese-British visual artist was particularly known for her paintings and prints based on tales, with a style called "beautiful grotesque". Throughout his career, he has created a fantastic world of his own, full of magic but also violence and ordeal. Painting, ceramics and serigraphy were some of the techniques he adapted to express pain, love and even break taboos. Considered in 2021, by the Financial Times, one of the 25 most influential women of the year, Paula Rego started in the 1990s to finally get the attention it deserves for the extraordinary work it has been doing. An example of this are the recent retrospectives at the Tate and other renowned museums. Discover more in this article about the extraordinary Portuguese artist and her sources of inspiration, from which she extracted a lévery own figurative xico. 

personal life Paula Rego

Dame Maria Paula Figueiroa Rego was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1935, three years after the seizure of power by the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. From a very early age, Paula Rego she was introduced to a culturally rich family environment, permeated by republican and liberal political ideals. The family maintained relations with other European cultures and the political convictions of José Rego (father of Paula Rego) collided with the political situation in Portugal at that time. Since 1932, António de Oliveira Salazar, Prime Minister of Portugal, continued the military dictatorship and plunged the country into a long period of scarce political and social freedom that lasted until the Carnation Revolution in 1974.

During her childhood, the Portuguese artist's father had the opportunity to study engineering in England. When he returned to Portugal, he was impressed by the anti-regime stance. In fact, since early Paula Rego developed a political conscience and awareness of injustice and violence, particularly against women. The Salazar regime – its systematic torture, secret police and detentions without trial – created anxiety and anger in Paula Rego, who expressed this through his art. He started painting at a young age, and at the age of 15 he was already portraying his vision of torture, The Interrogation (1950). From 1945 to 1951, Paula Rego attended St. Julian's School in Carcavelos, an enriching experience from a cultural and artistic point of view, as it was an English school that offered a broad horizon of British culture.
Due to the political situation in Portugal at the time — Salazar's fascist dictatorship — Paula Rego went to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. In this school, he received his 1st Summer Composition Prize, in 1952. In London, he met the artist, while still a student, Victor Willing, with whom he married and had three children. This relationship was stormy and complex, with infidelities on both sides. A love triangle between Paula Rego, Victor Willing and his lover is depicted in the 1981 painting, “Red Monkey Offers Bear a Poisoned Dove”. the son of Paula Rego, Nick Willing told Jornal Público: “My parents had a marriage with a lot of love, but also a complicated one, with a lot of pain, a lot of suffering. In Red Monkey Offers Bear a Poisoned Dove, one of the paintings from The Red Monkey series, from the early 1980s: the bear is the lover of Paula Rego, who is represented as the dove that her husband, the painter Victor Willing (the monkey, naturally) gives to another man. The paintings in this series give my mother permission to do something she was afraid to do and which she ended up not doing – sever the relationship with my father, who spent many years sick in bed. My mother had other boyfriends while she was married to my father, she had a lot of fun, but she never stopped being Vic Willing's wife. It still is today.”

"Red Monkey Offers Bear a Poisoned Dove" byPaula Rego, 1981

In 1957, he returned to Portugal, more precisely to Ericeira. Between 1965-1966, Paula Rego held his first individual exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery, at the National Society of Fine Arts in Lisbon. An exhibition very well received by critics and the public, who considered her works extremely innovative, although she was considered as a political artist who developed working methods and violent images.
From 1963, the Gulbenkian Foundation's return ended and the artist traveled between the two countries, Portugal and the United Kingdom, until 1976, when he settled in London. The year 1966 marked the beginning of a very complicated time in the life of Paula Rego: first, the death of her father and, immediately after that, the diagnosis of the degenerative disease of her husband, Victor Willing, who, as a result, starts to manage the artist's family business, moving away from painting. In 1969, Paula Rego accepted the invitation to participate in the XI Bienal de São Paulo – Brazil. In 1983, she began teaching as a guest lecturer in Painting at the Slade School of Fine Art and, in 1988, she held her first major solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, in London. In 1983, Paula Rego was invited by Moira Kelly to participate in an exhibition, in New York, of English art entitled Eight for the Eighties.

The Policeman's Daughter" byPaula Rego, 1987

In 1988, Victor Willing died of multiple sclerosis. In 1990, Paula Rego was invited to be the first Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London. The first two works that the artist completed during her stay at the National Gallery were “A Prova” and “A Madrinha do Novilheiro”, works on power relations based on positions in the social hierarchy. In the 1990s, she was finally recognized internationally for her work. His production has been shown retrospectively since 1988 (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian), with emphasis on exhibitions at the Serralves Foundation (2004), Tate Britain (2005) and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. In 2009, the Casa das Histórias opened to the public in Cascais. Paula Rego, dedicated to the work of the artist and her husband, Victor Willing. In 2017, the documentary film premiered Paula Rego, Stories & Secrets, directed by your son.

Influences on the work of Paula Rego, from short stories to Disney movies

Paula Rego stood out for creating a totally original figurative language based on stories, whether traditional tales, fairy tales, novels or plays. This is the constant thread of his work, the imaginary reinvention of the literature of authors such as Charlotte Brontë, Eça de Queiroz, Franz Kafka, Hans Christian Andersen and Martin McDonagh. Through painting, Paula Rego seeks to “integrate timeless stories into contemporary mythology and subjective experience”. In addition to the themes, also in the technique “it manifests an authorial autonomy that sets it apart from the main current artistic trends, from abstractionism to conceptualism, favoring a figurative language, through which it composes surreal scenes, mixing figuration and abstraction, with a fine satirical sense”.
Books were a constant presence in the Rego family home, especially those featuring works by English illustrators such as John Tenniel (1820-1914) in Alice in Wonderland (his favourite), Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) and others, but above all the famous Frenchman Benjamin Rabier (1864-1939), well known as the author of the advertisement La vache qui rit. These works and cinema, namely Walt Disney's films (Fantasia, Peter Pan, Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), also positively influenced the artist's imagination and creative process. These films and stories originated series of paintings, prints and drawings that the artist developed in a very peculiar way.
Paula Rego reconstructed the stories, starting from elements that can range from a character or event to a fragment of an image to reconstruct them from a new starting point, creating new stories and establishing multiple endings and intertextual relationships. The artist brought the stories from her childhood, from her memory, and brought them together in a multiplicity of references that give rise to the stories that she repeatedly invents/reinvents during five decades of artistic activity, in a constant process of creation and becoming.

"Snow White Swallows the Poisoned Apple" byPaula Rego, 1995

The Animals in the Paintings of Paula Rego

The hybridization process between human and/or animal forms intends to question and subvert the primordial principle of all hierarchies: the human above the mere animal, with the aim of displacing the supremacy of human reason, without, however, proposing a new hierarchy , because people are also capable of acting and reacting irrationally, an inherent constitution of humanity. Paula Rego brings this game of hierarchical transgression so that its audience reflects on the segregation of the animalistic component intrinsic to the human being that historically society strives to repress.

'War'Paula Rego, 2003

Portuguese Popular Tales in the work of Paula Rego

In 1975, Paula Rego received a research grant on fairy tales in London from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The artist focused on the project For approximately six months, the artist concentrated her research on Portuguese illustrators and folk tales, present at the Library and the British Museum. From this new reference, Paula Rego executed a series of gouache paintings entitled, Portuguese Popular Tales: Branca-Flor, 1974-5. These works had as background the oral tradition of Portuguese tales, however Paula Rego does not create literal illustrations of the stories. What interested the artist was the intersection between her own memories, the meanings of the stories and the political and social events of everyday life.

«Popular Portuguese Tales: Branca Flor – the devil and the devil in bed» (detail) byPaula Rego, 1975

The Woman in the Paintings of Paula Rego

Paula Rego he worked on realism, that is, in an imposing way, he gives the figures an attitude and gravity typical of figures in historical paintings. The theme of historical painting is based on historical facts of great importance, mythological, literary and religious history scenes. Thus, the patriarchal hierarchy was constantly revealed in his paintings. An example of this is the painting “The Cadet and the Sister”, which represents a relationship between brothers notably marked by the subservience of the female gender. The brother's figure is seated on a stone bench, while the young woman is crouched down, in a form of humiliation. This work broke records at an auction in London.
Owned by an American private collector, The Cadet and his Sister had an initial estimate of between 846,000 euros and 1.1 million euros, but ended up being sold for 1,614,795 euros, a new record for the artist, a source from Sotheby's, organizer of the auction, told Lusa agency. The previous record was 865,000 euros and was reached in 2011 with the sale of the painting Looking back (1987) by Christie's. Other paintings included in this theme stand out, such as Departure (1988), "The Soldier's Daughter" (1987), "The Police's Daughter" (1987) and "The Family" (1988). The “Mulher-Cão” series also inaugurated a new way for the artist to work with visual composition, with complex visual narratives, full of elements and details and several characters in a single work, which offered pictorial spaces reduced to one or two characters. .

"The Cadet and his Sister" inPaula Rego

The pictorial technique of Paula Rego

The first works produced in the mid-1950s, involved drawing, cutting shapes, collage, overlapping and the intervention of other materials such as ink and pastel, thus constituting the imagery of the work, continually becoming a inseparable element of the subject matter. Drawing is a constant support for the work of Paula Rego, which can be denoted, from the naive figurations during his years at the Slade School of Art to his political collages about a country under dictatorship, passing through the narrative pieces in acrylic.
From the 1980s onwards, the artist abandoned collages and devoted herself to painting and figurative drawing, and the techniques used were fully in harmony with the thematic content of the works. “On that occasion, the gestural drawing elaborated in ink, directly on the surface and the reduced palette of colors concentrated the artist's need to express herself directly and quickly. This requirement is justified in part by the influence of Dubuffet's Art Brut and by the assumptions of surrealist automatism, two important references that marked his artistic career.”

"Time – Past and Present" (detail) byPaula Rego, 1990

However, from the beginning of the 1990s, when she became the First Associate Artist of the National Gallery, in London, her contact with classical painting made her compositions acquire a naturalistic spatial and figurative conception, originating a mise en scène. which maintains, however, the same dramatic and intriguing load across his works. At this point, I had already made the transition from ink to pastel. For much of his career, Paula Rego preferred pastels to oils, stating in an interview: "Yes. Pastel, pastel, pastel, pastel, pastel [...] Never rubbing anything. Drawing, drawing, drawing [...] I don't like the hesitation of the brush, I'm I'm not mad at the lyrical quality of the brush. I much prefer the hardness of the stick [...] The stick is fiercer, much more aggressive."Paula Rego he never uses the technique of academic perspective, the two-dimensionality of the canvas being a powerful temporal representation resource due to the arrangement of forms that are distant and close at the same time. Painted from direct observation, the models portray individual feelings and traumas, as well as collective and feminine ones, especially in the “Aborto” series, a political manifesto about the first referendum in Portugal on the voluntary termination of pregnancy. The vivid paintings of Paula Rego offer a haunting portrait of contemporary society and, at the same time, of human nature itself.

"The Dance" byPaula Rego, 1988

Artist's Influence

Internationally, the influence of Rego's work is felt in contemporary painting, sculpture and printmaking. Paula Rego he worked on realism, that is, in an imposing way, he gives the figures an attitude and gravity typical of figures in historical paintings. This perspective influenced other artists. The British curator of modern and contemporary art at Tate Britain believes that the influence of Paula Rego it was broader and deeper than is often recognized. “I see [her influence] in the work of most female painters – particularly artists who engage with the body – and with women's position in the world. In fact, I would struggle to think of a significant painter, particularly in Britain, where I can't see a connection to Paula." Artists who challenge traditional representations of the female body are particularly grateful to Paula Rego, for example, the British painter Jenny Saville.

"Love" byPaula Rego, 1995

National and International Recognition of

Paula Rego is one of the main Portuguese artists with a great international influence. In 2004, she had another retrospective at the Serralves Museum, in Porto, and in 2009, she was honored with the creation of Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, a dedicated museum built in Cascais, where he spent a lot of time as a child. The building was designed by the architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, which has perfectly inserted an impressive contemporary structure into a beautiful natural setting. The museum houses many works by Rego, as well as paintings by the artist's late husband, Victor Willing. His production has been shown retrospectively since 1988 (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian), with emphasis on exhibitions at the Serralves Foundation (2004), Tate Britain (2005) and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Rainha Sofia, and recently had a retrospective at Tate Britain and a room dedicated to his paintings at the Venice Art Biennale.

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