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Paula Rego

Paula Rego, Dame with the Goat’s Foot (II), 2011-12. Pastel on paper

In this exhibition Rego shows a series of six large-scale pastel drawings inspired by A Dama Pé-de-Cabra, romance de um jogral’ (The Goat-Footed Lady, romance of a minstrel),a story by the 19th-century Portuguese writer Alexandre Herculano, based on an 11th-century folk tale in which there’s passion, there’s drama, there’s disaster.

Rego’s art deals with “the beautiful grotesque”, two opposites which are brought together seamlessly in the artist’s work.

Her figures are distorted ‘into unnatural ugliness’, but still retain human qualities and emotions.

Other written pieces including the poem ‘Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?’ by Hilaire Belloc and Pierrot from the Commedia dell’Arte have also inspired Rego’s painted work.

The figures in her paintings and drawings are often squatting or bending or lying or stretching, in ways that look as if they would definitely give you cramp. It’s what you can see in their faces.

Paula Rego’s women – and most of the figures in her work are women – are sad, and angry, and worried, and vengeful, and afraid.

Paula Rego said: “Portuguese stories are the grimmest, the darkest, most ferocious stories there are, because it’s like the Portuguese. But why is there so much violence in Portuguese culture? Well, they gave birth to Salazar and dictatorships.” “Yes, but this story is nearly 1,000 years old!” “Same thing,” she says. “It’s coming back to it, it never leaves.”

“I was born during the dictatorship,” she says, meaning the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, which ran from 1934 to 1968, “and it was horrendous. People were massacred. They were put in jail. They had their nails pulled. And then there was the revolution, and then that was supposed to have stopped. But I don’t see that it has stopped, really.” And she laughs.

I think Surrealism has always understood what I do, and I’ve always loved Max Ernst.”

The “grotesque” is there for all to see: in old women breastfeeding children, in witches, and skeletons, and giant spiders, and women cradling men who look as if they’re dying. Rego has been in Jungian analysis for quite a lot of her adult life, but it doesn’t seem to have got rid of this fear. Why does she think it hasn’t? Rego looks stricken again. “I think,” she says, “it was crying and crying and nobody coming to my help.” At the “military youth” she was sent to for “fascist indoctrination” she was, she says, told that you should never look in a fire or you’d see “the Devil’s face”. She didn’t ever see the Devil’s face, but she did, she tells me, once climb into her parents’ bed after having a nightmare and see “Death get into bed as well”.

“My fears,” Rego says, “are outside dreams, they’re very much to do with being outdoors.” Rego says that she is “of course a feminist” because “all women are feminists”.


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