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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

Flashback no. 6: Paula Rego at Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris (21 Dec 2018)

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Portuguese-born Paula Rego doesn't paint to please the viewer, she paints to disorientate them. Her canvasses tell uncomfortable, ambiguous and sometimes downright disturbing stories that we struggle to make sense of. And the longer we stand in front of them, the more we are intrigued and confused, often nowhere near understanding what the painting is about. But in there lies the beauty, the depth of her art.

Always defying the established conventions of the bourgeoisie she was born into and the dogmas of religion and society at large, Rego creates 'cruel tales' (whence the title of the exhibition) populated by eerie-looking, distorted characters that subvert roles and dynamics. Her distinctive figurative style merges the literary, the religious, the political and the personal giving life to a dream-like reality where people, mostly women, look both elated and miserable, kind and evil. We will never know which, but we can have a good guess.

Rego, whose childhood was spent under Salazar's fascist regime, candidly admits “it’s not very nice to live inside my mind". She apparently also suffers from nightmares. Of course she does, we see them in her large, haunting pastels, shrouded in dark secrets and unspoken truths. These are scenes that ooze pain, anger, resentment and speak of dysfunctional relationships and open wounds. Rego's visual universe is truly unique in that it's full of juxtapositions and twist and turns, none of which we should expect to understand.

The Dance, 1988

The Family, 1988

The Maids,1987

The Policeman's Daughter, 1987

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