Paula Rego – Tales of an imaginative artist

by alrou on January 30, 2011

*Photo Credit: lacobriga/Webshots

Dame Paula Rego is a Portuguese painter, illustrator and printmaker. She is among the main figurative artists working today, creating richly imaginative art rooted in memories, fantasy, literature, art history, and direct observation.

She was born in Lisbon in 1935, the sole child to a prosperous, middle-class family, under the Salazar dictatorship, which would later influence in her work.

Paula Rego began painting at the age of four. She attended the English-language Saint Julian’s School in Carcavelos, Portugal before studying at the Slade School of Art, London where she met the British artist Victor Willing, whom she ended up in marrying.  The two divided their time between Portugal and England until 1975, when they moved to England permanently.

In 1988, Willing died after suffering for some years from multiple sclerosis. Mother-in-law to Ron Mueck whose career she influenced, Rego was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989. Some essential awards in recognition to her art include:

  • 1992 – Honorary Master of Art, Winchester School of Art
  • 1999 – Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
  • 1999 – Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University of East Anglia, Norwich
  • 2000 – Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Rhode Island School of Design, USA
  • 2002 – Honorary Doctorate of Letters, The London Institute
  • 2004 – Grã Cruz da Ordem de Sant’iago da Espada presented by the President of Portugal
  • 2005 – Commissioned by the Royal Mail to produce a set of Jane Eyre Stamps
  • 2005 – Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Oxford University
  • 2005 – Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Roehampton University
  • 2010 – Honored with the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (the fourth woman painter to be made a dame)

Rego’s style is often compared with cartoon illustration. As in cartoons, animals can often be depicted in human roles and situations. Later work adopts a more realistic style, but occasionally keeps the animal references, like in Dog Woman;  a group of pastel pictures depicting women in a variety of dog-like postures (on all fours, baying at the moon, etc…) and the acrylic paint on paper works Red Monkey Series, in which a monkey moves from a position of dominance to defeat and then to humiliation at the hands of his victim turned oppressor wife.  Additional topics of paintings, for example, include personalities based on the nineteenth century novel by the Portuguese writer Eça de Queirós called The Crime of Father Amaro.

Rego’s works also include political statements such as the abortion triptych of 1998, made as propaganda in advance of the Portuguese referendum on the decriminalization of abortion.

Paula Rego’s art work is represented in several private and public collections such as those belonging to the Arts Council, British Council, British Museum, National Gallery, London, Saatchi Gallery, London, Tate Gallery, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Casa das Histórias by

In Portugal, her works are found in  the Colecção Berardo and in the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, both in Lisbon, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves in Oporto and the Casa das Histórias (House of Stories) in Cascais, among others. In fact, Casa das Histórias is a museum created in 2009 and dedicated to the work of Paula Rego, containing a collection of paintings, drawings and etchings produced by the artist and covers a period of roughly 50 years of her life.

Some links to her works :

Books on Paula Rego (through **:

*Photo Credit: lacobriga / Webshots

**Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from the sale of these books, but the price is exactly the same as if you went to purchase it directly in the Amazon site.

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