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Art

Trailblazing artist Paula Rego has died aged 87

@TomTaylorFO

The celebrated painter Paula Rego has died at the age of 87 after a short illness. 

The news was announced in a statement released by the Victoria Miro gallery. It read: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of Portuguese-born, British artist Dame Paula Rego at the age of 87. She died peacefully this morning, after a short illness, at home in North London, surrounded by her family. Our heartfelt thoughts are with them.”

The late Australian art critic Robert Hughes described Paula Rego’s work as “telling stories, fairytales, fables, plays, parables and the folklore with which she grew up. But it’s a psychic narrative laced with stories from the confessional, the psychiatrists couch and her own bad dreams.”

That folklore with which she grew up was a subversive force against the fascism that surrounded her Portuguese upbringing. She still propagates that same subversive force of creativity to this day. 

As the Tate Gallery in London adds, “Since the 1950s, Paula Rego has played a key role in redefining figurative art in the UK and internationally. An uncompromising artist of extraordinary imaginative power, she has revolutionised the way in which women are represented.”

Her own view is expressed in the quote: “Art is the only place you can do what you like. That’s freedom.” In her works, she did just that blazed the way for other female painters to follow. 

“I think all paintings ever since there began to be paintings were about stories,” Rego says. “All stories give an explanation for the world. They all give a face and in their way they make sense of the world.” Her work makes sense of stories and gives them a physical form.

Drawing on this central idea, she had given form to lives of many and often the obfuscated condition of women as sexism in art and the wider world becomes less clear. 

Her work is noted by many critics for its depiction of women as unfeminine, displaying brutish and animalistic qualities in her uncompromising depictions. This, for many, is not a particular style and more so a true representation of women in the physical world and not the fantasies in the minds of the male gaze. 

She continued this work beyond the canvas too tirelessly campaigning to keep abortions legal. She was a trailblazer with a fortified backbone, and brilliant artistry and she will be sorely missed. Thankfully, her artworks and her family survive her in passing. 

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