Our latest Artist You Need To Know is as prolific as she is political. Paula Rego is a fine example of what critic Robert Hughes spoke of, that many artists have never moved away from figurative work as they recognize many still have personal and larger societal narratives to explore (Rego is often mentioned alongside Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon, deservedly so). Her inspirations encompass both very contemporary issues – such as the rights of women, especially around bodily autonomy – but she also has offered insightful and perhaps unsettling interpretations of fairy tales and folklore, from a feminist perspective, that can be darkly humorous.
“Dame Maria Paula Figueiroa Rego is a Portuguese-born visual artist who is particularly known for her paintings and prints based on storybooks. Rego’s style has evolved from abstract towards representational, and she has favoured pastels over oils for much of her career. Her work often reflects feminism, coloured by folk-themes from her native Portugal.” (from the Tate).
Her accomplishments are impressive, from her numerous exhibitions to the number of books she’s collaborated upon (unsurprising, considering both the social focus and realism indicative of her aesthetic, but also her fine ‘realizing’ of traditional stories).
Her political stance is essential to her work: as she was born in 1935, in Portugal, it’s undeniable that her experience of fascism and later WWII left an indelible stamp on Rego’s world, reflected in the images she creates, and the stories she ‘tells.’
She studied at Slade School of Fine Art, UCL and was a member of the London Group, counting among her peers David Hockney and Frank Auerbach. Rego was the first artist in residence at the National Gallery, (London, U.K.).
She has had solo exhibitions at Serpentine Galleries (London), Tate Gallery, Britain, Yale Center for British Art and her work can be found in the National Portrait Gallery (London), the Leeds Art Gallery, and the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Rego was also the subject of a BBC documentary Paula Rego, Histórias & Segredos / Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories. Directed by her son, this glimpse into Rego’s life offers the following excellent summation of art and ideas: ‘Born in Portugal, a country which her father told her was no good for women, Rego nevertheless used her powerful pictures as a weapon against the dictatorship before settling in London where she continued to target women’s issues such as abortion rights. But above all, her paintings are a cryptic glimpse into an intimate world of personal tragedy, perverse fantasies and awkward truths.”
In her ninth decade, Rego is still making work today.