Pastel on paper, mounted on aluminum
160 x 120 cm (63 x 47 1/4 in) (unframed)
174 x 135 x 8 cm (68 1/2 x 53 1/8 x 3 1/8 in) (framed)
Picture-making has been a refuge and a place of safety for Paula Rego, but also a means by which she has conveyed her darkest thoughts and fantasies. Hugely prolific and always on the move stylistically and in terms of her methods, she has relied on this creative process for her sanity and as a way of negotiating her way through life, as it has for the many outsider artists whose work she has admired and from which she has sometimes drawn inspiration. She is fond of remarking that ‘making art is disgusting’, not to shock but because she regards that as a fake occupation. Self-consciously ‘making art’ would be for her a betrayal of her principles and one that would diminish the truthful and subversive power of her pictures.
In 1994 Rego began painting with pastels and instantly found the medium perfect for her desire to paint again directly from the model, which she has done ever since. Her Portuguese assistant Lila Nunes, frequently acting as a stand-in for the artist, has been vital to this process. Rego found the directness and tactility of the medium, which she immediately forced into service in an unconventional and extremely personal way, immensely appealing. Not for her the delicate blending of the 18th-century masters or even of Degas and other Impressionists who had employed it half a century before her birth. Instead, in works such as La Fête and Olga, both from 2003, the bold delineations of form are matched by the distinct mark-making by which the figures are summoned into being as richly coloured accretions of pure pigment.
Olga is from a group of pictures that dredge up uncomfortable memories of life just after World War II in the Portuguese seaside town of Estoril, where Rego lived as a young adolescent with her parents and where German refugees sought a new life. (Portugal had remained neutral during the war but had sympathised with the Axis powers.) The forbiddingly masculine look of Olga, a language tutor and musician into whose skirt the girl rather inappropriately seeks shelter and comfort, makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it was a male friend of the artist who served as the model. As so often with Rego, the startling nature of the image, suggesting at once tenderness and inherent danger, supercharges the seduction of its pictorial means with the aftershocks of psychological disturbance and trauma.
(Text: Marco Livingstone)