Paula Rego’s In Focus exhibition is a coup for the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings and runs until January 7, 2018. Paula Rego has gathered many labels over the years including feminist and women’s activist as well as being a mother and wife. She was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1935 and grew up in a middle class family which encouraged the art of story telling. Apparently she had an aunt who liked tell brutal children’s stories. When she was 18 months old her family moved to England. Aged 16 she was sent to an English boarding school and afterwards she joined the Slade School of Fine Art.
Paula felt she was not taken seriously by her peers, with some not understanding the stories told in her pictures. This is perhaps understandable as some of them are rather dark.
She began an affair with Victor Willing, a married student at the school, and got pregnant. Her family decided then to take her back to Portugal. Victor eventually left his wife and joined Paula in Portugal. They were married in 1959 and were together until he died in 1988. When Victor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis she cared for him while continuing her art and ten years after he joined her in Portugal they moved back to England with their children.
Paula Rego always felt that Victor was the “better artist, intellectually superior and just better in every way” though he encouraged her to believe in herself.
Her psychological relationship to men is not clear from the pictures as in many she depicts women dominating men. Perhaps one has to consider her adolescence during which she lived under the oppressive regime of the Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, a world where men dominated women and a woman’s place was in the home.
It was after Victor died that Paula began to experience professional and financial success. In 1989 she was short listed for the Turner Prize and became the National Gallery’s first associate artist in 1989-90.
The exhibition for me was a mixture of admiration for her art and use of colours which often reveal her mental state with honesty. The room with the story telling paintings and drawings was creative, intricate but had many psychological issues such as underlying sexual innuendo. The pictures in the ground floor gallery are fantastically creative but were hard to view due to their depiction of a brutal everyday life.
In the picture to the right the boy in the boat is actually escaping his kingdom, the village of Ericiera, while protecting his mother.
If anyone would like more information about the gallery and this or other events and courses please go to www.jerwoodgallery.org