b. 1935, Portugal
An artist of uncompromising vision and a peerless storyteller, Paula Rego has since the 1950s brought immense psychological insight and imaginative power to the genre of figurative art. Drawing upon details of her own extraordinary life, on politics and art history, on literature, folk legends, myths and fairytales, Rego’s work at its heart is an exploration of human relationships, her piercing eye trained on the established order and the codes, structures and dynamics of power that embolden or repress the characters she depicts. Often turning hierarchies on their heads, her tableaux, whether tender or tragic, consider the complexities of human experience and the experience of women in particular. She is especially celebrated for works that forcibly address aspects of female agency and resolve, suffering and survival, such as the Dog Women series, begun in 1994, the Abortion series, 1998–99, which is considered to have influenced Portugal’s successful second referendum on the legalisation of abortion in 2007, and the recent series Female Genital Mutilation, 2008–09.
Rego’s art transcends the art world. She is heralded as a feminist icon and is a household name. In her native Portugal the government commissioned the celebrated architect Eduardo Souto de Moura to design and build a museum dedicated exclusively to her work – Paula Rego’s House of Stories, situated in Cascais, which opened to the public in 2009. In the UK, where she has lived since 1951, attending the Slade School of Fine Art from 1952–56, her first major solo exhibition in London was held at AIR Gallery in 1981, followed in 1988 by an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. She was appointed the first National Gallery Associate Artist in 1989–90. She has been the subject of numerous books and TV programmes, including Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories, a BBC documentary directed by the artist’s son Nick Willing, which won the Royal Television Award for Best Arts Program in 2018, and The Southbank Show in 1992 and 2007. Her art continues to have an enduring influence upon younger generations, who are introduced to her work through the GCSE syllabus. In 2010 she was made a Dame of The British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
About the artist:
Born in 1935 in Lisbon, Portugal, Dame Paula Rego RA studied at The Slade School of Fine Art from 1952 to 1956. She lives and works in London.
The largest and most comprehensive retrospective of Rego’s work to date commenced this year at Tate Britain (7 July–24 October 2021) and will travel to Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands (27 November 2021–20 March 2022) followed by Museo Picasso Malagá, Spain.
Recent major solo exhibitions include Museum De Reede, Antwerp, Belgium (30 July–25 October 2021), and Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance, curated by Catherine Lampert, which travelled from MK Gallery, Milton Keynes to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh in 2019–2020 and was on view at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin from September 2020–May 2021.
Paula Rego – The Scream of Imagination | In Keys, organised by the Serralves Foundation, was recently on view at MACNA – Museu de Arte Contemporânea Nadir Afonso, Chaves, Portugal. Other recent solo exhibitions include: Giving Fear a Face, CEART: Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente, Madrid, Spain (2019); The Cruel Stories of Paula Rego, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France (2018–2019) and Folktales and Fairy Tales, Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais, Portugal (2018). Exhibitions of her work have been held previously at venues including: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Gas Natural Fenosa, La Coruña, Spain (2014); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Monterrey, Mexico; Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Brazil (2010-2011); École supérieure des beaux-arts, Nîmes, France (2008); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., USA (2007–2008); Fundação das Descobertas, Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal (1997) Tate Liverpool, UK (1996–1997); AIR Gallery, London, UK (1981).Recent international group exhibitions include All Too Human: Bacon Freud and a Century of Painting, Tate Britain, London, UK (2018); travelled to Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary; Post-Pop, Outside the Commonplace, Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal (2018); Macau Biennial, Macau Museum of Art, Macau, China (2018); Bacon, Freud and the School of London, Museo Picasso, Malaga, Spain; travelled to ARoS, Aarhus, Denmark (2017–2018). Her work is in the collections of numerous museums including the British Museum, Tate, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, London, UK; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, USA; The Art Institute of Chicago, USA and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, USA.
In 2010, she was made a Dame of the British Empire for services to the Arts in the Queen’s Birthday Honours and was awarded the prestigious Grã-Cruz da Ordem de Sant’Iago da Espada from the President of Portugal in 2004. Rego has received several Honorary Doctorates from universities including the University of St. Andrews (1999), University of East Anglia (1999), Rhode Island School of Design (2000), The London Institute (2002), Oxford University (2005), Roehampton University (2005), Faculdade de Belas-Artes at the University of Lisbon (2011), and the University of Cambridge (2015).
She is the recipient of many awards such as the Honors Medal of the city of Lisbon, Portugal (2016), the Maria Isabel Barreno prize (2017), Portuguese Government’s Medal of Cultural Merit (2019) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Harper’s Bazaar (2019).
[Biography courtesy of Victoria Miro]