IMAGE: 'TWO WOMEN BEING STONED' (1995)

KIRSTEN, ON THE ARTISTIC CONTENT

Obedience and Defiance effectively, truthfully and at moments painfully, animalistic and brutally, yet always sophistically, re-tells the narrative of lived experiences that define, through expressionistic gestures, the very meaning of humanity. Paula Rego has autobiographically ensembled cut-ups, collages, etches, prints, oil paints, acrylic paints and oil pastels, that are exhibited in the curation for the viewer. The exhibition encapsulates messages of, coded in parts, explicit in other, folk and fairy tales that appeal to adults and children alike. Rego, and the curation of the exhibition itself, touches upon figures and the nuances within regimes, including female genital mutilation and abortion, universal pictures of violence that at moments can reveal themselves as very personal as the reality of women in the physical world as opposed to idealised female type.

Rego’s use of oil pastel, depicted in the figure of a woman who fills the frame of 'Lush' (1994) explicitly addresses the layering of physical human lives and corporality that are noticeable in her retellings of personal narratives as well as folklore. However, her use oil pastel becomes so harmonious that it is often mistakable for oil paint as colours, lines, figures and forms emerge and re-emerge, navigating their own space on the surface and within the room, often unknown as to why, even by Rego herself. The continuity of her work eagers the viewers anticipation, consisting of overheard conversations, political risks and triumphant experimentations within mediums, each as successful as the next. We believe all that Rego says in this exhibition, we trust with her the characters she displays and the references coherent throughout.

‘The resolve to survive, the defiance’, Paula Rego, her approach to life and art.

JELENA, ON THE SOCIOPOLITICAL CONTEXT

Rego’s works reflect her own observations and overarching political climate. Interestingly, she tends to focus employ media thematically; her female genital mutilation (FGM) series (2008) is predominantly composed of etchings, her Dog Women (1994) and abortion series stunning pastel paintings. Overarchingly, the artist enjoys exploring ‘power games and hierarchies’, often inverting power structures. ‘Joseph’s Dream’ (1990), for instance, features the Virgin Mary in the traditionally male role of the painter as understood by Rego, pushing and thrusting paint on to the canvas.

Rego’s own emotional ambivalence pervades the art. Women are portrayed as either, or simultaneously, strong and submissive, prevalent in the striking pastel ‘Two Women Being Stoned’ (1995) and corresponding study (1990). Through the Girl and Dog series, Rego employs the imagery of master-animal dependency to explore her complex feelings towards her ill husband, painter Victor Willing. Rego’s storytelling triptychs are her largest works, her interpretations of existing written and visual tales. ‘The Cell’ (1997) is one such adaptation of the Portuguese text The Crime of Father Amaro (1875), in which the young priest is graphically depicted in sexual fantasy about the Virgin Mary, represented by a small doll beneath his bed.

In the final room of the exhibition screens Nick Willing’s (Rego’s son) 90-minute documentary Paula Rego: Secrets and Stories. This deep exploration uncovers Rego’s personal and financial difficulties, periods of artistic drought (1966-1979), and great success, focusing upon the 1987 Serpentine Show in Hyde Park. Her ambivalent familial role is further unraveled, through the personal letter of her dying husband, and the artist’s undisplayed paintings ‘The Family’ and ‘Departure’ (1986). Particularly evocative were the artist’s candid discussions of her lifelong struggle with depression; Rego herself reveals some previously unseen works from 2007, hidden away for the artist’s own shame. Combining biography and artistic discussion in its compelling narrative, Willing’s film is compulsory viewing for any Rego enthusiast.

Rego herself is an ambivalent artist. She moves between media and themes, sometimes detailing precise studies, and at other times working straight on the paper. Despite her own reserved nature, Rego’s works are nevertheless loud expressions that demand to be heard.

Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance runs at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art until 19 April 2020.

REVIEW BY KIRSTEN SINCLAIR AND JELENA SOFRONIJEVIC.

TUNE IN TO THE ARTS SHOW (TUESDAY 03 DECEMBER 2019) FOR AN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE RECORDED AT THE EXHIBITION WITH ALICE STRANG, SENIOR CURATOR AT THE NATIONAL GALLERIES OF SCOTLAND.