Who Are They?

Who is Paula Rego?

Meet art Paula Rego, a dramatic and powerful storyteller

Paula Rego, ‘Flood’ 1996
Paula Rego
Flood 1996
Tate
© Paula Rego

Paula Rego was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1935. As a young girl she spent hours drawing in her playroom at her grandmother’s house. She had a great imagination, and remembers that she was ‘afraid of everything’. Her parents encouraged her to become an artist, so she came to London to study at art school.

Paula Rego, ‘The Firemen of Alijo’ 1966
Paula Rego
The Firemen of Alijo 1966
Tate
© Paula Rego

Rego’s pictures are often inspired by stories – from the traditional folk tales and nursery rhymes she heard her grandmother tell when she was a young girl to books that she has read more recently. Many of her paintings include different characters, and some groups of work tell a story that unfolds over a series of pictures.

Rego’s subjects are often female. Many of them are based on her model, Lila, who poses for her in her studio most days. Once in her pictures, the characters she creates seem to take on a life of their own – it is as if they have their own story to tell. Her studio is full of props, some found, some hand-made, stuffed toys, clothes, fabric and other objects. She once said, ‘you have to become the figures you’re drawing’.

‘Anything can happen in pictures’

Paula Rego

Let's look closer

Paula Rego, ‘The Dance’ 1988
Paula Rego
The Dance 1988
Tate
© Paula Rego

In Rego’s painting above, we can see a group of characters gathered on a moonlit beach in Portugal. All the women in the picture are at different stages of their lives. The girl on the left is dancing alone. Two young girls are dancing with men. At the back of the picture three females (perhaps a grandmother, a small girl and her mother) are dancing together. The shadowy night setting makes the picture seem like it could be a dream!

Look at the characters in this picture. Choose one, and invent a name for them.

Describe what they look like. What are they doing on the beach at night?

More to explore