Dame Paula Rego’s has unveiled a major new exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings. The work on view is an exhibition that includes brand new works and others which have never been publicly exhibited before.
Paula Rego: The Boy Who Loved the Sea and Other Stories has at its heart a body of new paintings, drawings and sculptures, inspired by a 2005 story by Hélia Correia called The Boy Who Loved the Sea. It provides the starting point for this exhibition that also investigates both her genius for story-telling and her strengths as an artist.
Now 82, Paula Rego is one of the most significant artists working today. Best known as a painter of stories, she was born and brought up by the coast in Portugal and has had a fascination with the sea since her childhood.
“A new series of work by Paula Rego is always a cause for celebration”
Stories have long been a fruitful source of subject matter for Paula Rego and were very important to her from childhood: “An old woman who would come and see my mother now and again. And I’d say ‘please, please, please let her sit in my room until I fall asleep’ because I was scared of falling asleep, scared of the dark and she’d sit there telling me stories. Her stories sometimes were quite gruesome…”
Her use of stories functions as a kind of self-examination. Her paintings, pastel drawings and prints are not simply illustrations of the specific events that she finds in these stories, but rather they are a kind of reflection of her own experiences.
Drawing is key to Rego’s work. She begins with the help of family and friends who act as models for the characters in her pictures. More recently she has also worked from manikins (she prefers to call them ‘dollies’) that are made under her direction by granddaughter Carmen Mueck and old friend Lila Nunes, adding a curious – and sometimes sinister – new quality to her work.
The earliest works in this exhibition are prints. Nursery Rhymes, a series of works made in etching and aquatint, were produced in 1989. With their tales of violence and sometimes grotesque comedy, traditional nursery rhymes, like all folk tales, echo those basic human emotions and activities that we all experience. Similarly, J.M. Barrie’s childhood fantasy of Peter Pan provided another subject for her printmaking in 1992, a story packed with archetypal figures of pirates, fairies, mermaids and children who never grow up.
Also in this exhibition is a series of eleven pastel drawings called The Depression Series. These were made for therapeutic reasons in 2007 and never meant for exhibition. At the time, Rego was suffering from an especially bad period of depression, and she turned to drawing as an attempt to understand or cope with it. When the drawings were finished, they have stored away unshown. Ten years on, as a consequence of making a critically acclaimed film with her son Nick Willing, Rego agreed to show these works for the first time in a UK public space at Jerwood Gallery. They show a solitary woman seated on a couch in a range of expressive poses and are packed with unspoken drama and emotion.
In January 2017, Rego suffered a fall, crashing down face first onto a concrete path. She was treated in hospital, and a nasty gash in her forehead was stitched. A couple of days later she began a series of self-portraits, as a record of her battered looks. Given the nature of her injuries, she was not as fluent in her drawing as usual, and this adds an awkward, even painful quality to the pictures. Anyone familiar with the artist’s work would surely have no chance in attributing these drawings to Paula Rego, so utterly different are they to anything she has produced before. These five startling new self-portraits provide an unflinching self-analysis that shows her to be at the very height of her artistic powers.
Guest Curator Colin Wiggins says “A new series of work by Paula Rego is always a cause for celebration. ‘The Boy Who Loved the Sea’ is her most recent exploration of a subject that has always fascinated her, and we are delighted to announce that Dame Paula wishes that her work from this latest series should be given its first UK exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, with its unique seaside setting.”
Jerwood Gallery Director Liz Gilmore says “Dame Paula Rego is a legend in her lifetime, a legend in figurative art. She has received international critical acclaim for her brilliance as a painter of people and a teller of stories, and we are delighted to be holding her first major UK public gallery exhibition in ten years at Jerwood Gallery.”