Issue Number: 92
Dark matter: Chris Orr RA on Paula Rego
Chris Orr RA finds Paula Rego’s prints seductive and disturbing
The exhibition ‘Paula Rego – Printmaker’, a touring retrospective of the artist’s graphic works to date, has its only London showing at the Royal College of Art this October. The show demonstrates both the power of printmaking as an art form and the achievement of one of its greatest living practitioners. Rego’s leitmotif as a printmaker is the contrast between light and shade. Even the title of her first etching since student days, Young Predators (right), suggests the contrast between bright, youthful virtues and a deep, sombre other world.
After this, Rego threw herself headlong into etching, weaving a spectacular mythology, which at first appears familiar and reassuring, but quickly turns out to touch on the darkest human thoughts and actions.
Paula Rego, Young Predators, 1988
The American artist Robert Rauschenberg once suggested that artists like to make prints because it assuages the loneliness of the studio. Printmaking is frequently collaborative and Paula has thrived on her association with the print studios of Paul Coldwell, Curwen, the Royal College of Art and many others.
Rego has said that etching for her is ‘close to the chest’, because you have to ‘bend over it’ and ‘it is drawn in secret’. This is certainly clear in the intimacy of her etchings. But it is also evident in her lithographs, which possess a directness that is both seductive and revolutionary. In her magnum opus, ‘Jane Eyre’ (2001–02), a series of 25 lithographs, Rego expresses aspects of feminine experience, sexual darkness and the provocative nature of human beings.
Paula Rego – Printmaker, Gulbenkian Galleries, Royal College of Art (020 7590 4123), 9–15 Oct
Chris Orr RA
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