Paula Rego

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About the Artist

An artist of uncompromising vision and a peerless storyteller, Paula Rego has since the 1950s brought immense psychological insight and imaginative power to the genre of figurative art. Drawing upon details of her own extraordinary life, on politics and art history, on literature, folk legends, myths and fairytales, Rego’s work at its heart is an exploration of human relationships, her piercing eye trained on the established order and the codes, structures and dynamics of power that embolden or repress the characters she depicts. Often turning hierarchies on their heads, her tableaux, whether tender or tragic, consider the complexities of human experience and the experience of women in particular. She is especially celebrated for works that forcibly address aspects of female agency and resolve, suffering and survival, such as the Dog Women series, begun in 1994, the Abortion series, 1998–99, which is considered to have influenced Portugal’s successful second referendum on the legalisation of abortion in 2007, and the recent series Female Genital Mutilation, 2008–09. 

In Focus: The Power and Pain of Paula Rego’s Women – Frieze’s September issue cover story

For the cover story of the September 2021 issue of Frieze, Katherine Angel profiles 'one of Britain's most inventive and compelling living artists.'

 

In The Family, a work in acrylics that Paula Rego completed in 1988 – the year her husband, Victor Willing, died from multiple sclerosis – a mother undresses a father in a bedroom. She gazes out at us with a peaceable, open expression, her arm partially obscuring her husband’s face. Her daughter helps, one hand gripping the fabric of her father’s suit, her groin pressed against his, pinning him to the bed. Another girl stands by the window, her hands clasped in a kind of prayer; her shadow falls across the floor.

 

I find this picture – ‘picture’ being Rego’s favoured word for her works – terrifying. Like many of her images, it vibrates with indeterminacy and is paradigmatically uncanny – ‘that class of the frightening’, as Sigmund Freud wrote in his eponymous 1919 essay, ‘which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’. The uncanny is something that is ‘secretly familiar’: something which has undergone repression and then returned from it. It is what we already know but refuse to recognize. 

 

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These are images from which one might wake in the dark, heart pounding, disconcerted by how an apparently simple scene could feel so potent, as if it were trying to communicate something to us that we are trying to hide from ourselves.

Previous exhibitions at Victoria Miro

24 February - 30 April 2021

The Sky was Blue the Sea was Blue and the Boy was Blue

An exhibition of work by 19 artists celebrating the colour blue, available online and on Vortic as part of The London Collective.

Victoria Miro on Vortic
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Victoria Miro

16 Wharf Road
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t: +44 (0)20 7336 8109

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Victoria Miro Venice

Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994,

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Venice: Tuesday–Saturday: 10am–1pm & 2–6pm. 

 

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Admission free. 



 

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