Earlier this month I got to visit Lisbon for the first time. Part of my excitement about discovering this new city, was the opportunity to also discover more about the Portuguese artist, Paula Rego. I'd read about her for the first time in a newspaper article before her dedicated museum, 'Casa das Histórias' ('House of Stories'), opened for the first time at the end of last year. I was intrigued by her combination of innocence (e.g. 'Little Miss Muffet') and darkness (e.g. 'Dog Woman') and her representations of the experiences of women.
The building itself is really a work of art. Two sandstone coloured 'pyramids' stick up and look amazing next to the blue sky and set you up for the striking visual experience inside. You are taken through the various different phases in style that Rego has gone through to get where she is today. Her work includes collages in her early work, bright, cartoon-like paintings, spooky dummies made of found objects and large, dark, textural paintings.
My favourite works fell into the latter section, in particular the twisted, upside-down form of 'Snow White', the snarling and visceral 'Dog Woman' and the protective/vengeful 'Angel'. You're not quite sure from the expression on the face of Angel if she is ready to attack you or protect you!
You might say that her work is disturbing and on one level, I can agree. But for me it is the way she depicts women in roles that you don't normally see in everyday life and the way that this 'wakes you up', which is appealing. Women are often depicted as delicate, peaceful, clean, light, benign, beautiful... whether this is in paintings or in the modern media. I admire the way she fully embraces the messy, powerful and sometimes difficult realities of being a woman - or rather of being human!
We are lucky that here at the Walker Art Gallery we have one of Rego's etchings on display in 'The Rise of Women Artists' exhibition at the moment. It is an unsettling yet poignant piece of work from her Abortion Series and has been mentioned as a stand-out work by many reviewers of the exhibition. Her ability to distill intense emotion into small and simple pieces such as this, is also what makes her work so extraordinary. So if you can't make it all the way to Portugal, then at least come to Liverpool and take a look at her work!