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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paula Rego

Paula Rego Self-portrait
Although I try, goodness knows I try, I'm sure I don't write about female artists as often as their numbers or work would justify. More than that, I don't write about Portuguese artists as often as I should either. Okay, I've never written about a Portuguese artist, much less a female Portuguese artist...mea culpa. Paula Rego is worth writing home about. She's quite the unique individual. Try to imagine an artist whose influences are as diverse as Walt Disney and Dante's Inferno. Maybe Disney should do an animated feature on Dante. They wouldn't have to look far to fine a lead artist. Rego's work is often compared to illustration perhaps because of her Disney affections. She has a body of work covering such classics as Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Snow White, and the ostrich ballerinas from Fantasia. Her father owned Portugal's first private cinema. It was there she "cut her teeth" on such Disney fare. But let me warn you, before you go searching through the archives, don't expect anything even faintly resembling the "Disney style." It's an affection, not an affectation. For this, look instead to the ancient illustrations of Dante's Inferno, another of her father's favorites. Bedtime stories from The Inferno?

Snow White Playing with Her Father's Trophies,
1995, Paula Rego
The Disney connection is but a small part of her work. Rego's art is an excellent example of the difference between abstract and nonrepresentational work. Though she comes close at times, like Picasso, she never steps over the line. Though she never mentions the work of her Iberian neighbor, there are similarities between her work and his early, Pre-Cubist painting. At times there can be found the Fauvist look of Matisse as well. But also, there is a sketchy, etchy, illustrative, almost comic strip quality to some of her art. There is little doubt in looking at any of it that its artist is a woman. A female point of view permeates both the content and attitude, and if she's nothing else, she is a woman with an attitude. She's outspoken, very literate, opinionated, and blunt.

Girl and Dog Series, early 1990s,
Paul Rego
Paula Rego had her first commercial success in England through the Marlborough Galleries with her Girl and Dog series (left).  Later, her Maids series based upon Jean Genet's play in which the maids murder their mistress, was spread in limited edition prints around the world. In a typically female manner, nowhere in her biographical material could I find mention of her age or date of birth, though I think I recall seeing somewhere the year 1935. Her husband, Vic, was a tremendous influence on both her life and work. His death in 1988 she recounted in her Departures (below) series. Her media ranges from pen and ink washes to traditional oil on canvas. It wouldn't be going to far, I don't think, to call Paula Rego Portugal's most famous female artist...okay perhaps we might even leave out the female part.  But it can never be left out of her work.

Paula Rego with her Departure Series, 1990

Casa das Historia Paula Rego, Cascais, near Lisbon ,Portugal, her own museum.