Paula Rego: Her Art and Her Story

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Paula Rego’s art ranges from the abstract and avant-garde, to the evocative, yet grandiose. All her paintings originate from a long-standing folk tale or medieval village fable. When her parents left her to find work in the United Kingdom, she stayed with her grandmother in Lisbon, and there, she was told of these stories which now take the underlying and sole origin for her work; almost her entire inspiration for her pieces. Even though her paintings are sometimes figurative, rather than lifelike, there is always a common feature that remains dominant in her work, and that is the human anatomy.

Her understanding of the complexities that are the human anatomy is extraordinary; the way our skeletal alignment moves is portrayed accurately and realistically within her paintings, something that is a skill all artists desire to get right. Even when her pieces are meant to be ‘caricature’ in looks, she still manages to keep the proportions of her dominant article correct within her image, which makes her art so eye-catching and thoughtful. Sometimes her work is achromatic, whereas in other pieces, it is full with an array of bright colours.

In my opinion, her achromatic works are more powerful than the colourful works because they are minimalistic, yet the true story and meaning of the painting is so clear to see. Although it is said that paintings with colour are eye-catching, sometimes I feel the minimalism route speaks more. When it comes to using colour, however, Paula knows how to tell her story in her art. A colour featured in nearly all her paintings is red. Red is a primary colour, and also the colour we are drawn to first because of the colour spectrum.

When looking at her paintings, I am always drawn to the part coloured in red first, and this to me, says it is the start of her story. Looking at the red first leads me to explore and discover more areas within her paintings, like unravelling a folded-up piece of paper, and the more I discover, the more emotion I see in the art. Paula Rego, herself, says that her art is like a storyboard of events. Even though she does not elaborate on this, I take this to mean that her art is a portrayal of key events within her life.

My idea is based upon paintings I looked at before writing this essay, so I could decide for myself what I thought her art showed and the layers of emotion her art conceals. One painting has the depiction of a young girl being dressed by an older woman. I thought this could be her as a child being dressed by her grandmother. The older woman has a Portuguese appearance, which would relate to her earlier up-bringing. Another painting further supports my idea, and it is that of a young girl in a relaxed composition, with the same features as the girl in the painting mentioned previously.

I took this as a link, and based upon my original idea, I related this to her statement. The paintings I like most are the ‘Dog Women’ series, which feature women in ‘dog-like’ poses. The first painting from the series is the one I like best, because it boasts different media, which collaborate together to make her most complex, yet beautiful, piece yet. You can evidently see it has the use of pastels for the background, pigment sticks for the skirt, watercolours for the floor and, then, oil paint for the skin.

It reveals her true understanding of the skeletal alignment, because a pose so animalistic as the dog, is challenging and can easily go wrong, but this piece is anything but incorrect. It truly is a wonderful piece, and from what I would call her collection of evocative and avant-garde art. I can relate to this, because I, myself, like art that is slightly abstract, slightly distorted from reality, but so thought-provoking and eye-catching. The piece of art I dislike the most has to be her ‘Little Miss Muffet’.

Even though it is one of her few achromatic pieces, which, indeed, I like, it sways from her talent and makes it something that I feel any artist could do. Paula’s talent is her understanding of the human body. This piece has no reflection of that, as it is a human-like spider and a girl with no movement at all. It doesn’t show how she can accentuate the figure to make it look lifelike; it just shows some basic skills that she learnt at the start of her art timeline.

Also, as it is achromatic, you would expect some dark shading, just to show light, but this does not include any shading at all. ‘Little Miss Muffet’ is a grand piece, but not something I would say Paula Rego is renowned for. I think what separates Paula Rego’s art from modern art is the relation to realism and the culture which is present within her stories. Modern art tends to be distorted or displayed to disperse a message, whereas Paula’s art can be interpreted in your own way. Paula’s art relates to her Portuguese childhood and her Catholic beliefs.

Her art can also be related to pinnacle parts of her life, such as the creation of her own museum, her first commission to create a series of large-scale murals, or to medieval fables. The relation is not important, the meaning you understanding it to have, is the important factor, and just from the fact that you can do that with Pauls’s art, means that it is different, in both the maturity of the pieces and how pure they are. Sometimes they are satirical, but again, you can draw your own humour from the work.

When one can draw their own thoughts and feelings from art and not be told what it is saying, that is when it becomes unlike no other. Paula Rego is a very talented and inspirational artist and I hope that when I design and finish a piece of art I have created from its foundations, I can bring the depths of thought and complexity, as well as the skills, Paula brings to her work. ‘Little Miss Muffet’ ‘Unknown’ ‘Unknown’ ‘The Best Dog Woman’ I dislike this piece Young girl being Young girl in a This painting shows he most, but I like dressed by an relaxed her deep the achromatic older woman. composition.

Understanding of the Effect. It doesn’t (Paula and her Maybe related skeletal alignment. show her grandmother? ) to art, pictured There are uses of understanding of Notice the use of left. Notice, again, different media the human anatomy, red for the carpet; the use of red, present. Very which I feel, shows you start there and which draws you avant-garde and she is a great artist. work your way up to the facial evocative; the art I the painting. Features. like the best.

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