At Tate Britain, celebrating a mischievous, subversive genius

LONDON – Paula Rego is the kind of artist who portrays a soldier in a leopard-print gimp mask, a little girl shaving her pet dog and the Devil’s wife in nipple tassels.

Despite Britain’s famously prudent nature, her naughty scene Made her a national treasure: 2010, Queen Elizabeth II 86-year-old Rego was made Dame CommanderOne of the country’s highest honours. and A major career retrospective at Tate Britain The third event hosted by the museum group opens on Wednesday, following a short performance at Tate Britain in 2004 and a show at Tate Liverpool in 1997.

The retrospective is the largest exhibition of his work to date in Britain, a country where the Portuguese-born artist has lived, on and off, since the 1950s. The show, which runs until October 24, comes at a time when the kind of figurative, narrative painting Rego creates has never been more fashionable.

Rego combines disturbing imagery—dark nursery rhymes like “Three Blind Mice” and portraits of women like wild dogs—but it’s her spirited, otherworldly early work, rather than the gritty naturalism of her recent pastels, that The mind resides powerfully inside.

Born in Lisbon in 1935, Rego was the only child of liberal parents who opposed the rule of Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. When she was 16, her parents sent her to a finishing school in Kent, southern England, and in the early 1950s, she attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Portuguese society was claustrophobic to women (who did not receive the right to vote until 1976), and Rego’s early works raided against the oppressive atmosphere. At Tate Britain, there is “The Interrogation” (1950), in which two sets of foreskin legs are held behind a woman on top of a chair; “Under Milk Wood” (1954), a stern painting transferring the play of Dylan Thomas in a Portuguese kitchen from Wales; And the angry, chewy “Salazar Voting the Homeland” (1960), with waxy yellow motifs suspended on a navy background, demands some time before you figure out the title’s promised action.

The collage offered a way out of this brittle type of image formation. From 1960, Rego began cutting newspapers and magazines, as well as his own drawings, and putting the pieces on canvas. Walking into another room at the Tate Britain, the strength of “Julieta” (1964) and “Manifesto (For a Lost Cause)” (1965) is striking—a maelstrom of heads and hooves and planks and wings, accented against planes. Pop color. The two were featured in their first solo exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery of the National Society of Fine Arts in Lisbon in 1965, a show that shocked many of their contemporaries.

In an interview he gave to a friend, Poet Alberto de Lacerda, shortly after the opening of that show, Rego said that she wanted the forms embroiled in those hybrid canvases to escape the history of painting as “high art”. Leaning on her work on the floor (she said she found “the thing on the wall scared me looking back”), she told Lacerda how she drew inspiration from “caricatures, newspaper reports, street events, proverbs and songs. , folk dances, nightmares, desires and fears.” And so he found his artistic voice: spoken, sung, whispered wisdom; of rumor and folklore; Idioms passed down through generations.

Animals and young girls became important players in Rego’s imaginative realm, and an interest in Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung led him to return to the creative experiences that were playing out in his adult relationships: in the series “Red Monkey”, he used the characters as portrays a toy theater that belonged to her husband, Victor Willing, to dramatize an extramarital affair. It’s hard not to back down from the brutally painted animal avatar tower in each picture, and the violence of scenes like “Wife Cuts of Red Monkey’s Tale” (1981), which has yet more vomit.

The exhibition culminates with a central chamber of rego paintings from the late 1980s, when she was caring for Willing in the last years of her life. These are suffocating scenes, lit up by the bright sun of a rak giorgio de chirico Influenced by the fetish danger of the painting and David Lynch film. Watch the daughter’s determination in “The Family” (1988), who is caught between her father’s legs as she helps him prepare; Or the clenched jaw of “The Policeman’s Daughter” (1987) as she polishes off her father’s knee-high boot.

Then, in 1994, Rego began using pastels, and the tone of his work changed significantly. Among the most acclaimed works in this medium are a vast array of abortion paintings, which he created after the narrow defeat of the 1998 referendum on changing Portugal’s anti-abortion laws. In works such as “Untitled Number 4” (1998–9), the girls – some still in their school uniforms – curl up in fetal positions after illegal termination.

As subject matter still as it may be, large-scale pastel works do not have as much influence as their more fanciful painted scenes. All the strength and brilliance of acrylic paint fades into a material with the monotonous associations of amateur paintings, or the discreet gaze of Edgar Degas.

When Rego employs an assistant to paint pictures of 19th-century frenemy women, it is conceptually interesting, but reminiscent of Maun and other London School painters, especially lucian freud, who taught at Slade when Rego was a student there.

Give me the oil-on-canvas “Cast of Characters from Snow White” (1996) on one of these sad, lonely pastel women any day: the princess’s unnervingly adult face and trademark stocky calves, as she undresses in her skirt On top of the tease and pleadings among the fairy-tale companions.

It is a painting with the subversive edge of a contemporary fable, refreshing with the imaginative depth of a rogue national treasure.

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