Paula Rego

for Kate & Clint


She died two weeks ago and everybody wrote some words about her. So I decided to do it also, but on different way.
On March 2022 I saw her exhibition in Bristol in a big gallery Arnolfini.
Now, knowing she died, I took rather that exhibition text to remember her as everything, that should be written about her now as a hommage. In that text she is still alive.


Paula Rego, (26 January 1935 – 8 June 2022) was a Portuguese-British visual artist known particularly for her paintings and prints based on storybooks. Rego’s style evolved from abstract towards representational, and she favoured pastels for much of her career. Her work often reflects feminism, coloured by folk-themes from her native Portugal.

Rego studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, and was an exhibiting member of the London Group, along with David Hockney and Frank Auerbach. She lived and worked in London.

In 1957 she returned to live in Portugal with her husband, the painter Victor Willing, and their three children, before finally settling in London in 1963.

In 2009 The Casa das Histórias, a museum dedicated to Rego, opened as a permanent home to the artist’s entire collection of over 200 prints alongside drawings, preparatory works and paintings loaned by the artist.

Major solo exhibitions and retrospectives have been key to Rego’s extensive career, with her work housed in major public and museum collections all over the world.

Rego explores themes of power, rebellion, sexuality and gender, grief and poverty, often through female protagonists. One of the most important figurative artists of her generation, her work ranges from painting, pastel, and prints to sculptural installations.

The Exhibition

Rego makes a welcome return to Bristol (almost 40 years after her first exhibition here in 1982-83), creating an opportunity for a new generation of visitors to explore the artist’s rich and imaginative world. Featuring over 80 prints from across Rego’s extensive career, the exhibition explores her interweaving wit and dark humour, delving into the art of storytelling through Rego’s reinterpretations of well-known narratives and classic tales, repositioning the role of women at their centre.

Subversive Stories also looks deeper at Rego’s mastery of the printed medium, exploring the process of printmaking as it informs Rego’s multi-layered interpretations, bringing shadowy readings to childish mischief, whilst casting a light on present-day politics, most notably those affecting women.

Bringing together early examples of experiments in etching and lithography, her much-loved series Nursery Rhymes, Peter Pan, Jane Eyre and the Pendle Witches, and less familiar stories, such as The Prince Pig and The Curved Planks, Rego pulls us into a world of not so ‘wicked’ women, childhood adventure, and folklore and fairy tales, in which the underdog reigns supreme, as Rego reinforces her reputation, taking ‘the side of the beauty not the beast.’


Please note, this exhibition includes images that explore sexuality, abortion, and the practice of female genital mutilation.

Subversive Stories

Arnolfini welcome us to venture into the extraordinary imagination of Paula Rego, one of the leading figurative artists of our generation. Known for her powerful paintings and dynamic storytelling, she has also harnessed the alchemical power of printmaking, drawing audiences into her disquieting world.

Embracing etching and lithography at art school, Rego later recalled it was a relief from painting: ‘It’s like swimming after you have been on a dry land for so long.’ The spontaneity and fluidity found in printmaking can also be likened to the act of oral storytelling. Having learnt English at a young age, Rego’s own stories intertwine the fairy tales, folklore and fables of both, Portugal and England (her adopted home).

As a child Rego would play with a miniature Spanish theatre acting aut the everyday and filling the pages of diaries and sketchbooks with ilustrated word and images. Her subsequent work explores a multitude of themes including power, rebellion, sexuality, gender, religion, and the inherent brutality of life. Like her subject matter, the inspiration for her stories is vast, encompassing childhood, fairy tales, opera, politics, and her own interior world.

Mist I (from Pendle Witches series)
Paula Rego 1996
etching and aquatint
plate size 35.8 x 29.5 cm / paper size 67.5 x 52.1 cm
Edition of 30
Courtesy Paula Rego and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London
©️ Paula Rego

It is within these hybrid, interwoven stories, that Rego reinterprets and subverts narratives. Placing women and girls at their centre, her storytelling challenges established gender roles, fuels sexual ambiguity, undermines the innocence of children, and interchanges traditional notions of good and evil.

Rego utilises the implicit nature of storytelling as a subversive act, employing its shapeshifting qualities to explore an idea from multiple angles, often in series. In similar manner she draws on the metaphorical possibilities of printmaking, a medium reliant upon the contrast between light and shade. Childish mischief is embodied with darker meaning, whereas the harrowing practice of illegal abortion is brought out of shadows.

Within these ‘subversive stories’ Rego draws together the multilayered language of print with an age-old love of literature, reminding us taht: ‘it is through stories that we interpret the world around us’. A master of reinterpreting, reimagining, and reinspiring it is with glee that she shares (in recent documentary) that she is, still, ‘always looking out for a story’.


Berlin, 10th of June 2022

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