Paula Rego at the Secret Auction

We are delighted to have Paula Rego as one of our contributing artists. Paula Rego's influence on contemporary art is immense, making her a household name and painting icon. In today's blog Isabel Casey discusses her life, works and influence

Dame Paula Rego is a Portugese artist currently living and working in London. She studied at the London Slade School of Art from 1952-1956 and quickly progressed to become an exhibiting member of the London Group in 1962. Paula has worked in a variety of mediums across her career, primarily producing pieces in oil paint, pastels and prints. Her substantial career has resulted in an extensive body of work, whose influence can be seen on many other practicing artists. Her numerous solo exhibitions around the world prove her worldwide success. She was the fourth woman painter to be made a dame, and in 2009 a gallery opened dedicated to her, named ‘House of Stories’. I'm sure you can understand why we are very exciting to have Paula exhibiting with us at The Other Art Fair.

Paula Rego with Painting

Whilst Paula’s work draws upon a variety of influences and life experiences a clear artistic current of bringing together unlikely opposites can be identified in her work. One of these is her movement between abstraction and figurative representation. As a student at the Slade School of Art Paula fought against her tutors insistence on accurate anatomical drawing keeping secret sketchbooks of drawings in her own free style.

Paula creates images that emerge mysteriously out of a fusion of real life occurrences with fantastical stories. She seamlessly combines these opposites, creating images that simultaneously invite and obscure understanding. When fairy tales meet reality in Paula’s world, it is definitely the nightmarish versions of favourite bedtime stories that she conjures up. Her images, often dark and twisted, show a complex assortment of characters sitting uneasily within an interior space. There is an unsettling atmosphere within these spaces through unnatural and unnerving poses. She creates a sense of foreboding that is heightened by a saturated colour palette which often filters through the realism of the images with a harsh acidity onto the otherwise soft pastel colours.


Paula Rego, Dancing Ostriches

She often uses her source material of stories and fairytales as an avenue to explore themes of sexuality and gender. She subverts notions of what it is to be a woman, showing bestial and grotesque figures. However, in her images the bestial woman is powerful and the grotesque somehow beautiful. It is a credit to her skill as an artist that she is able to transcend enforced boundaries of what it is to be a woman. Consequently, she is referenced among some of art histories greatest feminist icons.

Dame Paula is well known for her series ‘Dancing Ostriches’ from 1995, that was inspired by Walt Disney’s Fantasia. These images differ to the majority of her work as they only feature women. Paula’s pastel drawings probably aren't the ballerinas you are used to. The conventional ballerina has come under Paula’s scrutiny to be re-imagined as bulky and burly women, either hitching up their skirts or lounging on sofa cushions. Their muscular bodies challenge traditional notions of dainty ballerinas. This series in particular reflects Paula’s uncompromising vision, with her intimate and unique portrayals of women setting her apart from a patriarchal dominated world.

Paula Rego, Celestina's House

In discussing her work Paula said: “The past collides with the present; memory mixes with imagination.” Does she ever struggle to distinguish between the two? “I do,” she says, nodding her head. “They become each other.”

It is this magical combination that makes Paula’s art so fascinating. Life and story, past and present, memory and imagination all exist in one space.This leads us to have many questions when looking at her images, which are never quite answered as Paula imbues each image with a strong sense of mystery and ambiguity. This is Paula’s magic trick, each image has the potential to sustain a lifetime of re-looking and imagining of what the story behind the artwork is and what it means.

On Sunday 25th March you have the chance to see a piece by Paula at Art on a Postcard’s 2018 Secret Auction, so make sure you check it out!

Written by Isabel Casey
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