Born in 1935, Paula Rego is one of Europe’s most influential contemporary figurative artists. A painter of ‘stories’, her characters enact a variety of roles and depict disquieting tensions below the surface. Her powerful visual language is characterised by psychologically-charged depictions of human dramas and narratives, where relationships seem to veer between adoration and repulsion. Taking inspiration from literature, myths, fairy tales, cartoons, religious texts, and her own life, Rego is a prolific printmaker, enjoying the freedom and dynamism that the various mediums offer her. She lives and works in London.
‘In 2010 Enitharmon Editions published a booked called ‘I have Found a Song’, a collection of poems and images about enslavement to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Inside the book there is a reproduction of Rego’s triptych called ‘Human cargo’, as well as reproductions of the three etchings to date of the trafficking series. In addition to this trade edition there is an ‘edition de tete’ containing a lithograph that Rego has entitled Death Goes shopping. The other two are called Penetration and Little Brides with their Mother. Unusually, but happily for the reader, Rego wrote a short essay to accompany the three reproductions in the book:
“Death Goes Shopping, Penetration & Little Brides with their Mother are three etchings that I conceived together telling the same story. I dreamt the idea up, but I drew everything from a set I made. I had been to see an exhibition on the grotesque in Antwerp, and there they have the most beautiful lace dresses you can imagine. I went into a shop and there were all these children’s dresses in white. I bought a lot of them. It struck me that they were like little bridal gowns, and when I got back to my studio in London I made some dolls and put them in these dresses. I made up a story that they were kept in chains and that they were going to be sold: marketed young and loaded onto a cart, like chickens, by a nasty woman representing Death. That way they can grow up married to whoever they’re going to be sold to. It’s as simple as that: it’s just children being marketed. In one of the pictures Death isn’t present but the mother is there instead, looking very sad, with a little girl crying. They will soon get used to it.”
While the imagery is historical, perhaps from French Revolution days, or the period of the abolition of salavery, the intention of the etchings is almost all too modern and it takes very little imagination to transpose this scene and update it to the present. These 3 etchings say so much about the evils of trafficking, albeit it in near allegorical and even perhaps anachronistic garb, that we instantly get the point. Of course there have been many artists who have been ardent feminists but few quite as outspoken and brilliantly powerful or able to use such influential weapons as Rego. So much of the subject matter of the artist’s oeuvre over the last decade has been to do with social evil that we consider her not only a great artist, by career, but also, by choice, a true feminist’. T.G. Rosenthal ‘Paula Rego The Complete Graphic Works’. For a fascinating insight into Paula Rego’s relationship with Curwen Press and her attitude to lithography click here