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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

In memoriam: Paula Rego (1935 - 2022)

Paula Rego died today. The art world has lost one of the greats. I'm so glad I got to see her some of her work one more time at the Venice Biennale, where it inhabits an entire room in the Central Pavillion.

Rego didn't paint to please the viewer, she painted to unsettle them. Her pictures 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 they are about. But therein lies the beauty, the originality and 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 created 'cruel tales' that are populated by sinister looking characters that subvert roles and dynamics, all shrouded in dark secrets and unspoken truths. Her distinctive figurative style merged the literary, the religious, the political and the personal giving life to a nightmare-like reality where people, mostly women, look both elated and miserable, kind and evil, calm and furious. We will never know which, but we can have a good guess.

Rego's uncompromising visual universe was and will remain truly unique because of its juxtapositions, ambiguity and twist and turns, none of which we should expect to fully understand. Rest in power, Paula.

Paula Rego by Chris Garnham February 1988

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