Today I visited Casa das Historias Paula Rego in Cascais by Lisbon, a museum dedicated to Portuguese born (1935) artist Paula Rego. I feel very lucky to be here ,as she is one of the artists mentioned in this chapter of “Intimacy” of the course.
She studied at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London 1952-56, and divided her time between London and Portugal, and has exhibited widely internationally. In Portugal she is definitely one of the most known contemporary artists. Last weekend in Porto, I had a peek in the Art section of a bookstore and found no less than 5 books about Paula Rego’s works.
The building of the museum is very impressive- it looks huge, like a massive adobe building with two towers, reminding me of adobe villages in New Mexico, or some Incan temples. It is actually concrete, just painted an adobe red, with a big green lawn around. I was surprised how small the museum felt inside. The museum has a very vast collection of Paula Rego’s paintings, most of which have been donated or lend by the artist herself, but there is only a small amount on display at a time.
The name of the museum “Casa das Historias”- the house of stories seems very fitting. Every painting and etching tell intricate stories of moral and social dramas or about human relationships, with elements of fantasy and imagination. The current exhibition is called “Old meets new” and is based on stories from the novels Cousin Bazilio (1878) and The relic (1887) by the Portuguese author Paula Rego admires the most: Eca de Querios (1845-1900). The artists recreates the scenes with models in her studio, develops backgrounds and dresses them up, and then paints the scenes.
Most of her works were huge drawings on paper mounted on aluminium. Having just experimented with the mixed media exercise, I was discovering how Paula Rego does just that. Her huge drawings are often made with a mix of oil pastels, acrylics, bronze powder with dry goache, felt pens. She is also mixing different styles of drawing, like very detailed intricate patterns , with parts of the drawing just scribbled. Often there are surprising differences in sizes too, like far too huge a pattern on the wall paper , or some figures much bigger than others. There always seem to be a lot of different stories going on in every painting, with human drama in the center. “Cousin Bazilio” is a story about seduction and then being used, abandoned and then blackmailed. There are also often various creatures or fantasy animals present.
There was also a room dedicated to etchings from the series “Abortion” 1999-2000) and Female Genital Mutilation (2009) with strong dynamic scenes about these traumatical surgical themes. “Paula Rego has used the techniques of engraving and lithography in order to express her critical voice that is often biting and socially intervening”, describes curator Catarina Alfaro in the exhibition catalogue. These were very strong moving works, with horrified, painful expressions.
The human drama and relationships were very strongly expressed in every work, so it was very moving to see this exhibition. So much pain and misunderstanding. There seemed to be a dark undertone and often some sexual connotations in most stories. Technically, the perspective was often “off”, hands and feet were scribbled in a way that would have made me use an eraser 100 times, there seemed to be a speed and spontaneity to the drawings that contrast to the pictures of the artist carefully crafting and staging the scenes in her studio.
In the bookstore, I was surprised to see that the artist has illustrated several children’s stories and books in a humorous way.
Unfortunately it was not allowed to take pictures of the paintings, but only of the architecture. So these are some pictures of older painting and drawings from Paula Rego that are published on her website:
2016. Casadashistoriaspaularegocom. [Online]. [24 July 2016]. Available from: http://www.casadashistoriaspaularego.com/en/paula-rego-and-victor-willing/paula-rego/group-exhibitions.aspx