Paula Rego: ‘Does art offer the best revenge? It’s the only method I’ve found’

There haven’t been many certainties in 2021, however one factor has been made crystal-clear: Dame Paula Rego, 87 subsequent month, is considered one of the biggest painters of her era – not simply in Portugal, her native nation, or Britain, her dwelling since the Fifties, however the world. An enormous, critically acclaimed retrospective this summer season at Tate Britain reminded us of the savagery, strangeness and attraction of her imaginative and prescient (as properly, in the phrases of the FT’s art critic Jackie Wullschläger, as “a lifetime’s flair for sensitively rendering the unidealised female form”). 

If Rego is commonly impressed by the fantastical, conjuring scenes from her favorite Portuguese folklore, traditional literature and even Disney movies, she by no means shies from the bracingly actual: from questions of need, dominance and wish; from points akin to FGM or, most famously, abortion (her collection on that theme, made in the late Nineties, is extensively credited with serving to persuade Portugal to alter its legal guidelines). It’s odd to suppose that, when she had her breakthrough present at London’s Serpentine Gallery again in 1988, she apparently made storytelling in art appear credible once more. To have a look at her work, you suppose: what else is there?

The Hateful Aunt and her Son, 2017

The Hateful Aunt and her Son, 2017 © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro


Rego hasn’t stopped working however she has been slowed by ailing well being, Covid and a fall that noticed her badly harm her face. Despite this she nonetheless travels to her studio in London the place she works along with her long-time mannequin Lila Nunes; they’ll end the day with a glass of champagne. It’s right here that she has been completely photographed for us, amongst the many dummies and different props that populate her work – the place she brings so many goals and nightmares into being. She additionally solutions a particular Q&A of our personal to coincide with the publication of a ebook subsequent month the place she responds to questions from lots of right now’s most interesting feminine artists, from Chantal Joffe to Marlene Dumas by way of Kudzanai-Violet Hwami – we share a few of these too.

Studio models and objects in Rego’s studioStudio fashions and objects in Rego’s studio © Gautier Deblonde, courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

At the second we will additionally see one other present of hardly ever seen previous works, The Forgotten, at Victoria Miro in London. Self-portraits determine for as soon as, impressed by Rego’s momentary disfigurement; in the meantime, her Depression collection dates from considered one of her depressive spells. She’s had a number of, not least when her husband and champion, fellow artist Victor Willing, was identified with a number of sclerosis, a illness that may lastly kill him in 1988. The works additionally call to mind her beloved father, equally vulnerable to psychological crises, who tried to defend her, in childhood, from the cruelties of António de Oliveira Salazar’s regime. But this stuff may by no means be stored from Rego – they sit far too near the floor of her thoughts, as of her photos. That pressure has sustained her for many years.

Louis Wise: It is commonly stated that your work is courageous. Do you agree with that?


Paula Rego: I’m not a courageous individual. I am moderately timid and shy, except I’ve had an excessive amount of pink wine. Discovering I may do no matter I appreciated in my work got here as a reduction. If it turned out properly, it gave me nice pleasure. 

Your new present is named The Forgotten. Are such individuals the heroes – or at the least the topics – of your work?

I’ve all the time loved flipping issues on their head. Putting the canine in cost, so to talk. It makes for a extra fascinating story. 

Do you view your durations of melancholy as half and parcel of the inventive course of? Can it’s useful?


It isn’t useful, it’s miserable, however it’s a part of the identical factor.

Have you reconciled your self to the self-portrait? Or is there one thing simply too apparent about the style?

I’m unsure if they’re apparent however I used to be by no means focused on doing them. I didn’t like my face.

One of the nice joys of your new ebook is to be questioned by so many extraordinary feminine artists. Has the sexism of the art world gone now?

I doubt it very a lot.

La Marafona, 2005

La Marafona, 2005 © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

What’s it like being a Dame?

It’s good.

Your father recurs very movingly in your recollections – and in works in the new present. Has ageing modified your notion of him?

Not in any respect. I nonetheless see him in the identical approach. I beloved him. I may rely on him to rescue me. He was all the time very form to me.

Do you agree together with your mom’s line that “a change is always good, even if it is for the worst”?

No. Except in my work. There, change is inevitable.

Clothing issues deeply in your photos – and also you and Victor appeared a really trendy couple. Do you get pleasure from portraying garments?

I’ve all the time beloved garments, it’s considered one of the few issues I had in frequent with my mom. She and my father would journey to Paris yearly and he or she’d purchase that season’s hats. There are nonetheless many hat bins on high of her wardrobe in Estoril. We had a seamstress (Menina Francisca) come to the home to make our garments, as again then you definitely couldn’t purchase ready-made in the retailers. My mom purchased Vogue and Elle patterns so we might be updated.

A model in Rego’s studio – she terms them “bonecos”A mannequin in Rego’s studio – she phrases them “bonecos” © Gautier Deblonde, courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

You function so many animals and beasts in your work –which have marked you most in life? Did you’ve gotten pets as a baby, or when residing in your loved ones property at Ericeira? 

I used to be a really shy, timid baby. Frightened of all the things, even flies, my mom stated, however she thought I ought to have a pet to maintain me firm. He was referred to as Ron Ron. I used to be frightened of him. He was a pure-breed Scottie and stored being kidnapped and held for ransom. He was very extremely strung and the kidnappings didn’t assist. In the finish he jumped to his loss of life from a balcony: suicidal canine. In Ericeira my grandparents had a really previous canine referred to as Bruno who had a number of tics; and later Vic purchased Jack from the Lisbon zoo. Jack was his canine actually, a really stunning Portuguese mountain canine. He used to chew into small canines in the event that they strayed into the quinta.

You have stated, “You can punish anybody in a picture.” Does art all the time offer the best revenge?

It’s the only method I’ve discovered.

You have been engaged on a collection based mostly on the Seven Deadly Sins just lately – which of those have you ever been most vulnerable to?

I’d say gluttony. When I used to be at ending faculty I ate everybody else’s leftover puddings and placed on a lot weight that my mom didn’t recognise me. At the Slade I’d purchase a household pack of Neapolitan ice cream and eat the lot. I really like ice cream.

Do your personal photos stay a thriller to you, or are you able to clarify each half?

It is true that typically you have a look at previous work and reassess it. Sometimes it isn’t as unhealthy as you feared.

Do we nonetheless misunderstand childhood?


Meeting Adelia, 2013Meeting Adelia, 2013 © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

Try to simplify and sentimentalise it?

Not me.

Is portray an image nonetheless “like being a man”?

The little bit of me that appears like a person.

Do you continue to have any unfulfilled ambitions?


Which artist, residing or lifeless, would you most prefer to have a glass of champagne with?

Picasso or Botticelli.

What has been your deepest pleasure?

Having my knickers taken down by my husband. 

“Discovering I could do whatever I liked in my work came as a relief”“Discovering I could do whatever I liked in my work came as a relief” © Gautier Deblonde, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

What the artists requested…

In an extract from her new ebook, Paula Rego takes questions from these she’s impressed round the world

Celia Paul

What is your angle to magnificence in art? In your personal work and in the work of others.

I don’t have one. I’m not attempting to make issues stunning, that’s not significantly fascinating, and I anticipate I’d discover issues stunning that others discover ugly.

Is grief a supply of inspiration?

No, it isn’t.

Why don’t you paint nudes?

I’ve completed, if the story wants it. [The poet] Tony [Rudolf] was nude in Metamorphosis. Clothes are very helpful. They say loads. They present character and standing. Most of life is clothed.

Depression No 3, 2007

Depression No 3, 2007 © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

Chantal Joffe

Did you discover it helped your melancholy, making these drawings, or made it worse?

It all the time helps to work.

You have spoken about all the time displaying Victor [Willing] your work for his assist/recommendation, did anybody exchange him?

Unfortunately not, no.

Do you ever get lonely being a painter?

I don’t know what to say to be useful. People discover their very own approach. It doesn’t assist anybody to be discouraging. I don’t get lonely being a painter, however in the previous I did miss different painters to speak to about work.

Flora Yukhnovich

I really like the dummies in your work, they’re so fantastical and uncanny. Do you make them for an image, or do they exist for their very own sake and discover their approach into your work?

I normally make them, or have them made, for a specific function however then they turn into jobbing actors and get forged in several roles or utilized in installations. I turn into very keen on some, whereas others creep me out and Lila has to cover them. She made a beautiful cricket for me, however it had a foul feeling I couldn’t use, so she took it away once more.

Misericordia III, 2001

Misericordia III, 2001 © Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

Wangechi Mutu

Do you paint your topics the approach you do… hoping to push down partitions of repression and encourage ladies to be freer of their totally different variations of themselves?

The only factor I’ve ever made in the hope that it could change minds had been the abortion work. Otherwise, I paint ladies as I see them. Those are ladies I do know.

Rego makes her models for particular roles, but then “they become jobbing actors and get cast in different roles”Rego makes her fashions for specific roles, however then “they become jobbing actors and get cast in different roles” © Gautier Deblonde, courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami

I’m wondering, while you had been making work in the starting… was there certainty about what all of it meant? Were there expectations that you simply felt you needed to fulfil, and the way did you overcome or fulfil them and nonetheless stay true to your work?

My first art classes had been at St Julian’s School in Portugal. They had been encouraging and allowed me to color something I needed. I used to fill the corridor with murals. The Slade was extra proscriptive. They needed me to attract from the casts of statues. I couldn’t get on with that. I carved an area for myself in a nook and hid my photos behind the statues. Did my very own factor. Victor Pasmore, who was very crucial of my work, stated, “Are you still doing that stuff?” It was the only “stuff” that had some which means for me. I couldn’t fake I used to be an summary painter. I wasn’t. “Trust yourself,” my husband stated, “and you will be your own best friend.”

Paula Rego: The Forgotten is printed by Victoria Miro on 18 January 2022 at £65. The exhibition at Victoria Miro, London, continues till 12 February 2022

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