Thursday, March 23

Paula Rego, portraits of the rabid dignity of her women

There is a pain that only calms rage, a sadness that grits its teeth until it is combined with pride, even with the arrogance of someone who knows that they have made a decision and assumes the consequences, even if they are harsh, like the look of that girl in a shirt white dress and matching tie with her skirt raised above her waist to sit naked on a black bucket, a bottomless pit placed on a threadbare towel on the floor. A schoolgirl, perhaps, between an unmade bed and an empty chair. A single woman, like the rest of those who parade through the series on abortion that Paula Rego painted like a punch in the stomach in 1998. Because in 1998 the voluntary interruption of pregnancy was still illegal in Portugal, her country of birth, and Rego painted all the misery and fear, the raw loneliness of going through such a trance clandestinely.

That series on abortion was one of the most certainty slaps that Paula Rego (1935) has unleashed throughout more than half a century of artistic career. A journey as personal as it is throbbing that the Museo Picasso Málaga (MPM) is now taking a look at in the exhibition that will open its doors next Wednesday and that offers the work of one of the most notable and subversive contemporary artists. Organized by Tate Britain with the collaboration of the Dutch Kunstmuseum Den Haag and the MPM, the exhibition that can be seen in Malaga until August 21 brings together a selection of more than 80 pieces by an author who has set fire to her own account of the woman told by one of them, without concessions or sensationalism, with courage and harshness.

Born in Portugal and raised in the United Kingdom, Rego’s work already visited the Malaga art gallery five years ago in the powerful assembly that the museum dedicated to the London School. Rego then sat at the table of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Bomberg and Frank Auerbach. She now occupies the presidency of a banquet that leaves a knot in the stomach and another in the eyes.

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Because there is not the slightest concession to aesthetic or intellectual comfort in Rego’s work, capable of offering a representation of the universal and proper woman, timeless and fully current, lyrical and political at the same time. Because if Virginia Woolf asked for a room of her own for women, Rego demands for them a representation of her own as well. «Unquestionably, Rego’s work is a benchmark for feminism, since a good part of her discourse has focused on highlighting the inequalities suffered by women, with harshness and dignity. I remember reading that she was asked in an interview if she was a feminist and she answered ‘Yes, unconsciously’. It is clear that the defense of women and the denunciation of her circumstances is something that this artist has in her DNA », maintains the professor at the University of Malaga (UMA) and specialist in contemporary art María Jesús Martínez Silvente.

«A good part of his speech has focused on highlighting the inequalities suffered by women, with harshness and dignity»


Professor at the UMA and specialist in contemporary art

Are we, then, facing a feminist exhibition at the Museo Picasso Málaga? The artistic director of the institution, José Lebrero, disputes the question: «Although his work could be useful to stimulate the very current debate that reveals the evident antagonisms between gynocentric cultural interpretations that operate as models of resistance to the traditional masculinist vision of art, It is up to us first of all to underline the expressive richness and the conceptual complexity of a work carried out by someone who is undoubtedly a great woman and an excellent artist».

An author who also represents the most recent link in the chain of monographic exhibitions that the MPM has dedicated to contemporary women artists in recent years. «Not always without difficulties –continues Lebrero-, over the last decade we have been showing retrospectives dedicated to great women artists of the 20th century at the Museo Picasso Málaga. Sophie Tauber Arp, Hilma af Klint, Lousie Bourgoise, Meret Oppenheim or the collective dedicated to women artists of surrealism have preceded the current exhibition of who is considered today as the most important living artist in Portugal».

The proper acknowledgment

«All of them coincide –adds Lebrero– in proclaiming a different vision of the world to the hegemonic one and their work shows the committed passion with which they faced their work that did not count when it would have corresponded with the appropriate recognition and deserved visibility in an art system. that little wished to integrate them».

Martínez Silvente picks up the glove to add: «Fortunately, artists, intellectuals and institutions are carrying out a review of the image of women and the roles assigned by culture and society. Artists like Paula Rego facilitate, influence and inspire young artists who see their work as a starting point».

Thus, the echo of Rego resonates strongly in the work of many young contemporary artists. The ascendancy is clear, for example, in the case of Ivana de Vivanco, the young Chilean-Peruvian creator born in Portugal. “Of course I appreciate her influence!” concedes De Vivanco from her studio in Germany. «She is an artist of great value to me. I am very impressed with how he manages to combine an overflowing imagination with a very acute observation of reality, the way in which he connects the scenarios he composes, his way of working with light, color, the line… », offers the author who has presented his work in Malaga at the hands of the Isabel Hurley Gallery.

«For me, the great challenge is how to tell a story, but to do it through the image. If we could tell the scene in words, it wouldn’t be worth starting to paint. Paula Rego is a master because of the way in which she manages to transfer that drama from the story to painting and she makes sure that the story has to be told that way, with those images. In that sense, she is one of the examples that gives you hope as an artist and as a woman artist that the struggle that takes place in the workshop can go further », offers De Vivanco.

«In addition, Rego is still very radical, I am very interested in that subversive potential, the fact that a work of art must destabilize the viewer and put in crisis the structures that it brings from home. Achieving this through an image that does not need words is something that also impresses me about his work », adds the artist.

«Over the last decade we have shown retrospectives dedicated to great women artists of the 20th century»


Artistic director of the Museo Picasso Málaga

De Vivanco emerges as one of the most notable heiresses of Paula Rego’s figurative drive, a commitment maintained throughout her career and highlighted by both Lebrero and Martínez Silvente: «It has always caught my attention –provides Professor of the UMA – that she is a figurative painter, because, sometimes, that means in the history of art, going against the current. On the other hand, it is a language that has made it easier for her to be a ‘storyteller’, a chronicler of her time who shows realities that are not comfortable at all».

«This idea –says the UMA professor– is linked to another outstanding feature in his work: the conversion of the personal into the universal and, as a consequence, the ability to challenge the viewer directly. This is only achieved by great artists. In addition, her work enjoys an astonishing timelessness. Who will not think of Ukrainian women when they see the work ‘Fuga’?

Because when they asked him, almost 25 years ago, about that series on abortion, Rego replied: «I’m not interested in being an artist. I want to say things, denounce situations. Then he was silent for a moment. And he settled: “I know what I’m talking about.” Because there is a pain that only calms rage. And maybe, with luck, art too.

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