Dame Paula Rego claims never to have read Freud — a nice irony given that her psychologically complex works, deeply imbued with the sexual and the sinister, are as ripe for analysis as those of any artist working today. The London-based Anglo-Portuguese painter and printmaker herself cautions against interpreting her pictures as indicators of her own psyche and she has little interest in explaining them. When asked about the mysterious figure in one of her works, she simply responded: “It’s there because it looks right.” It is, however, impossible to view her pictures and not to feel their charge.
They make disturbing viewing: mothers and daughters in uneasy relationships recur, as do dolls and mannequins; innocence oppressed is a regular theme as are nursery rhymes and dreams. Rego is above all a storyteller whose stories hook but inevitably escape the viewer. Her figures have independent lives and what they are up to hovers on the edge of understanding only to slip away at the very moment of comprehension. It is no coincidence perhaps that she was born (in 1935) in the same part of the world as Goya — she shares many of his traits.
Her unsettling work (which has now earned Rego a Damehood) can be seem this summer at the Marlborough Gallery in London (until August 7) and at the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, a resort Lisbon.
All images © Paula Rego/Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art