The Scottish Mail on Sunday

An unnerving observer of the human condition

- Alastair Smart

Paula Rego wouldn’t know how to paint a boring picture if she tried. A retrospect­ive for the 86-year-old at Tate Britain showcases her superb skills as a storytelle­r. She summons up worlds that are dark, disturbing and, one might even say, surreal were it not for the fact that they draw inspiratio­n from aspects of her own life.

These aspects include the fascist dictatorsh­ip of António de Oliveira Salazar in her native Portugal (Rego moved to

England aged 16), and her three-decade marriage to British artist Victor Willing, which was marked by affairs and his long, fatal struggle with multiple sclerosis.

In The Policeman’s Daughter (1987), a girl intensely polishes a long, black boot. It belongs to her father – so is she just conforming to age-old gender expectatio­ns? Or is the way she thrusts her arm deep inside the boot a call for female, sexual empowermen­t?

Like Lucian Freud, Rego is an unflinchin­g observer of the human condition, albeit from a female perspectiv­e.

Across her career, Rego’s subjects have had body parts slightly bigger or slightly smaller than is normal. This isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it does add to a sense of the unnerving.

In Untitled, painted shortly before Willing’s death, she goes so far as to imagine her husband and herself as a dog and a little girl respective­ly. The chain she places around the tired canine’s neck seems painfully symbolic.

Rego was made a

DBE in 2010, but her work is anything but Establishm­ent.

 ??  ?? SISTER ACT: The Cadet And His Sister, 1988
SISTER ACT: The Cadet And His Sister, 1988

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