Artist Research – Paula Rego

Paula Rego is one of the artist’s that my tutor recommended looking at. He described her prints and paintings as:

“disturbing by their intensity and sense of risk taking within an artwork is worth looking at.”

The first set of images are all her works and taken from the Saatchi Gallery website. You can see the link here –

'The Family' - 1988 Acrylic on Canvas

‘The Family’ – 1988 Acrylic on Canvas

I find this painting incredibly creepy and disturbing and clever. At first glance I want to look away, the way the mother (a presumption) and daughter (again a presumption) are handling the man somehow has sexual undertones. I find that disturbing and I wouldn’t want to create work like that without offering the viewer some explanation of why I was putting such an image in front of their eyes. Perhaps she already alludes to why within the painting – there’s an illustration that looks like a stork and a fox painted onto a piece of furniture in the background.

A critic on the Saatchi site comments that  “Is the man as doomed as the dragon, or will he in fact resurface like the fox, to eat the stork, once it has removed the bone lodged in his throat?”

But I found a copy of Aesop’s fable which I had at home, in the fable of the fox and the stork, the fox tricks the stork by pretending to invite her for a meal, only to provide a dish which she cannot eat out of due to her beak, The stork returns the trick on the fox the next week giving him a vase which he cannot eat out of due to having no beak. The moral is “if you play tricks on people they may play them on you”. When seen in the painting this would suggest the women in the man’s life had grown tired of his restraints, violence, or being patronized and turned the tables on him.  Either way the subject area is bold.

See link to whole text here:


'The Fitting' - 1989 Acrylic on Canvas

‘The Fitting’ – 1989 Acrylic on Canvas

Below is a link to the site where I obtained the above image and also a small commentary on the painting:

In the commentary the commentator notes that the painting reminds him of a painting by Velasquez’ – “Las Meninas”. I had never heard of this painting and so felt like to understand Rego’s work a little better it would be best to take a look at this painting by Velasquez. I found this article from a guardian art blog helpful in providing some illumination about the link between the two paintings:


The version of Las Meninas that has been hanging at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Photograph: John Hammond

“The version of Las Meninas that has been hanging at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Photograph: John Hammond”

I can see the similarity in that in both paintings a royal or noble female figure is being dressed or attended to by two other females. None of whom look pleased with their situation. But in Rego’s painting I wonder why the central female figure doesn’t just break free as it were. She seems giant like, large enough to push aside the stern looking woman immediately in front of her. Her gaze/expression however looks so passive, as if she were not actually in the room that one wonders whether she is being depicted as a pawn within the smaller woman’s game. I have no idea what the creepy doll on the chair is supposed to represent.

'The Police Mans Daughter' - 1987 Oil on canvas

‘The Police Mans Daughter’ – 1987 Oil

I found an article written by Simon Hattenstone for the guardian about Paula Rego, within which he asks the artist about the Policeman’s daughter…

“The policeman’s daughter does not look mild, but Rego says she is another figure of obedience. “She loves her father, and he’s not been very nice to her. She is just following what her dad wanted.” Was she ever abused? “Me, no, never.”

I found that his article offered a lot of insight into the world Paula Rego inhabits, one full of grotesque fairy tales, the repression of women, darkness and Portugal’s dark history. A world  mark by a fear, fear’s that express themselves in her painting. I found it interesting that her work was not considered great by those advising her at Slade:

“Then she showed her work to another artist. “Do you know Victor Passmore?” she asks. I shake my head. “No. Good. Serves him right, silly bugger. I had another of those sessions with him. He’d just become an abstract artist, and he looked at my pictures and said, ‘How can you still be doing this kind of thing? It’s terrible. Have you not heard of abstract art?’ And I got more and more embarrassed, and sad really. And ashamed. He said it was a load of rubbish, then he got on his bike and went away. I never got over that.”

It’s amazing how the art world is so full of people who try to tell each other what is art and what isn’t, when the reality is people can only create from themselves, and each person is individual. Surely that means each persons work cannot be judged against another’s, it is as unique as they are unique.

I’ll finish my look at Rego’s work with this quote from the article by Simon Hattenstone

“Rego is a storyteller, myth-maker and magic realist, who takes everyday family life and twists it into something quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – shocking”.

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