Paula Rego at Galeria 111
The first drawings displayed on the gallery walls date from the early 80s of the 20th century.
At the beginning of this journey, in Paula Rego’s exhibition rooms, coloured images appear in acrylic on white paper. We can see works such as Os Colonos of 1983; É Para Ti of 1983; Histórias de Nova Iorque of 1984; A menina e o cão of 1986; Remédio, from A menina e o cão series; and Leiteira of 1987, in “sanguine” tones, obtained from the lavish water spray with which the artist covered the paper surface.
The first images in acrylic, with linear and strong brushstrokes, contrast with the careful play of light and shade in the watercolour stains placed on the sheet’s white plane, something constant in the work A Leiteira.
The acrylic drawings are raw, revealing stories filled with obscurantism or memories of the painter. The spectator – who, for José Gil, is someone with “artistic perception” – becomes the receiver of a reality where the drawing background, in its flat whiteness, prompts a notion of autonomous lines. Tender but vigorous strokes show – in the nodules, in the hesitant stroke, in the impetuous gestures – recordings that spring from the mind as if they were seismographs, where the artist often enters a fearless confrontation with her memories.
Vivid colours throb in these outlines, creating subtly circular and spiral characters. We identify relationships between the elements. Or, as José Gil would say again, “a charge of forces”. (In these works, the gestures’ theatricality reminds us of the need to go beyond the text and the word, and reach the immanent and pure, or even scenic, state of actions. Paula Rego is mentioned as an artist who immerses herself in the performative side of things).
In this first group of acrylic works, we can witness a return to the figurative, without ever completely relinquishing the codes of abstractionism.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the artist conceived collage-painting works, in a succession of images “superimposed on paper”. The 60s psychedelic pop colours covered the diaphanous surface of the canvas, supported by improvisation and recourse to newspaper reports, magazines, children’s songs and proverbs. Fears and nightmares were sublimated in her drawings, which she then cut out and added to the canvas. In Rego’s work, the major indirect or direct driving force was Dubuffet, whom the artist discovered and never abandoned. She was interested in the raw and spontaneous process of art made by children.
In the next, larger room, we find the work Jantar from 2013. Made in pastel on paper, we see the depiction of Teodorico, the main character of the book Relíquia by Eça de Queiroz.
In Jantar, Teodorico is bent over his own shame when the fakeness of his relic is discovered – an immaculate offering, which he had promised to take from Jerusalem to his aunt Maria do Patrocínio, a devoutly religious woman who would leave her fortune to Teodorico. Or he prays in the oratory, perhaps feigning devotion to Christ, so as not to lose the fortune that his aunt had threatened so much to remove from her will, should his nephew succumb to carnal pleasures. Teodorico prayed in the oratory to deceive his aunt, but he also did it with authenticity, evoking the beloved one he had lost. He asked all the saints to return her to him. He lived a dual life. Perhaps this is why the character appears in the work Jantar as a double. On the one hand, he displays religiosity and humility before God; on the other, his voluptuousness is revealed when he offers his aunt a package which, instead of containing the Jerusalem relic, presented a perfumed, lacy and feminine nightdress.
Paula Rego’s oratory does not have the green colour described in Eça’s book but follows many of the novel’s elements.
Paula’s family had a secular father and a Catholic mother. The religious tradition was evident in the rest of the family. Her paternal great-grandfather was a preacher and there was an oratory full of saints in the house, where he prayed surrounded by the smell of incense. Perhaps this is why Paula Rego identified with the work Relíquia. In the book, those beatifying smells are quite often talked about. Teodorico, to disguise the scent of his mistresses, would soak himself in incense before talking to his aunt.
In the Relíquias series, we find the work Sonho from 2013, in pastel on paper.
The drawings, made between 1999 and 2002, such as the Anunciação series, show a somewhat baroque tension. Underlined by the female figure, austere and despotic, even oppressive, in the 1999 work Controlo. The older, bulging woman gravely occupies the upper area of the paper, where the composition usually has a lighter atmosphere. In the lower part of the drawing, the younger, more fragile character adds diagonality to the composition. This shows the imbalance between the two characters and the clearly abusive behaviour of the one with more power.
Paula Rego’s own experiences may have been invoked or perhaps there are intense autobiographical notes from when the artist, as a young girl, had private English lessons with a female teacher who, although efficient, exercised physical and psychological violence on the painter. The artist never forgot this and suffered in silence.
Fears and terror are the artist’s leitmotif. Often treated independently of form, with surreal and unusual collages, using contrasts or repetitions; or through a more academic drawing, between pure and dirty, good and evil, power and submission as atonement. Cut-outs of pains that she wished to atone for. “I paint to give fear a face”, she tells us.
Until January 15, at Galeria 111, Lisbon.