Australian Fine Artist

Paula Rego

Research and Analysis

Video of the biography and interview with the artist

Paula Rego is a British painter and printmaker of Portuguese birth, she trained at the Slade School of Fine Art where she met the English painter Victor Willing (1928–88). They married and divided their time between Portugal and England until 1975. Victor became ill with MS and his health went down hill over several years until his death in 1988.

During her career Paula has drawn upon her isolated and possibly lonely childhood growing up mostly in the company of her grandparents. Her father was a man who wanted to be a intellectual and her mother an artistically inclined woman but of a wealthier class so socially not really allowed to do anything other than be an ornament to her husband and the “lady of the house”.

From inside looking out sometimes to the world Paula seems to have concocted a fantasy world to use in her art works. She uses imagery of nursery rhymes, stories, imagination and a touch of reality. Her art is confrontational, sometimes violent in its undertones and raises a lot of questions as you look at them. Especially from the expressions on many of the faces and the threatening use of props by her figures.

On the video we saw Paula on the floor with toys and other props around her, drawing on them to create her own imagery. We also saw her drawing portraits from life. These were often used as preliminaries for a preparatory painting to work out all the shapes, lighting and design of the final painting. I actually liked her life drawings better than anything else of hers.

As a female artist, Paula doesn’t paint or draw “pretty” scenes. She doesn’t romanticise the female figure and again, drawing from her Portuguese heritage, depicts woman as they really can be, solid, sometimes “beefy”, with strength of body and spirit. Sometimes they look menacing as she paints them in stories of murder and the negative side of human nature.

As she was interviewed Paula spoke about the experience of being in art school. She went to the  the Slade School of Fine Art and found it both liberating and restrictive at the same time. Overall though apart from meeting her husband there, learning new techniques and being exposed to many other styles and methods was a positive influence.

I think Paula was influenced by her husband, as an artist he would have had comments about various parts of her works, and as he become ill and passed away, the strain came out in her art as she probably worked through all the emotions she was being confronted with at the time.

You can look at some of Paula’s work and just see a well designed and painted work, but in others if you look into the faces of the characters there is an undertone of sometimes sadness, other times evil intent if not action. I have produced a few works like this in my early years as I worked through some very strong emotions after relationships broke down, and have seen the reactions from viewers. It is a very powerful tool and method of communication. One which I think for the moment I am over, preferring to go in another direction. I would rather see someone cry from joy in front of one of my paintings rather than from guilt, shame, horror  or sadness.

The word Semiotics was brought up after the video, which I think we will be discussing further in another lesson, but in regard to Paula’s art and our understanding we were asked to think of a nursery rhyme and it’s superficial or general meaning and what we think may be an alternative meaning behind it, and then the real one if we could find it referred to anywhere.

Defenition:  From the Greek σημειωτικός, (sēmeiōtikos), “observant of signs. Pictorial Semiotics is intimately connected to art history and theory. It has gone beyond them both in at least one fundamental way, however. While art history has limited its visual analysis to a small number of pictures which qualify as “works of art,” pictorial semiotics has focused on the properties of pictures more generally. This break from traditional art history and theory—as well as from other major streams of semiotic analysis—leaves open a wide variety of possibilities for pictorial semiotics. Some influences have been drawn from phenomenological analysis, cognitive psychology, and structuralist and cognitivist linguistics, and visual anthropology/sociology.

There is actually a web site which goes into many of these at If you are interested it is a good place to start.

Our group chose a few to look at but settled on Three Blind Mice.

General understanding was a farm with too many mice and scaring the wife and her retaliation.

Undertones we gave it were a bit off, in that we came up with chopping off men’s body parts, adultery and some other pretty sadistic ideas I’d rather not repeat.

The web site said that it referred to Mary 1 of England (Bloody Mary) who was Catholic and decided that three noblemen who were protestant, were plotting against her and had them burnt at the stake, followed by taking over their properties. More to do with just wanting to take all their stuff as far as I could see! Still, a disturbing story to base a tale for kids on.

We are following up with an assessment task to listen to three different news casts on the same day and record the order of stories, length and compare the differences and then draw some conclusions. Another task for the holidays, No rest for the wicked.

Further info from the above task to come…


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