Paula Rego: Oratorio, Marlborough Fine Art, London

Nightmare visions are a revelation

Paula Rego makes many of the paintings in this show from a mixture of pastel, conté crayon and charcoal, one medium enhancing the effect of the other. The outcome is a series of new works that look like a sequence of bold, vivid friezes on the nursery wall h interlocking themes snatched from the dark, timeless depths of folk tale – flat, glowing panels of rich, contrasting colours, both restrained, and given strong emotional definition, by black outlining. These are narrative paintings, and the stories they tell are gruesome and chilling in the extreme, but because of the way in which they present themselves – the rough and tumble of each of these crowded scenes, animals, dolls, lumpish adults, bustling, boisterous children, masked ghouls and proto-children all crowded together – that fact is not immediately evident. We are lulled into a kind of premature delight by the way they are painted. Yet we should not be delighting in them – except, of course, for the reason of their painterliness.

Yes, these are terrible scenes and they speak, time and again, of the ritual humiliation of the female. The female is she who suffers in Rego's work, she who is preyed upon, victimised and probed by children, harpies, slavering, yawning-jawed dogs and bloated, swollen-faced kidults. The older women generally have a look of weary resignation about them, as if they are exhausted almost beyond the limits of their exhaustion, as if they are almost serenely beautiful in their utter spentness. There is a worn and taxed beauty in these faces – it is not that smooth and sophisticated kind of drawing-room ideal of beauty to which so many painters, male and female, have so often accustomed us. This is a much harsher world altogether. There is nothing soft or winningly feminine about Rego's women. These faces often have the look of strong, square peasant faces, pitilessly accustomed to the hardest of life's hard knocks. These are scenes of brutal rape, of female circumcision, and they are played out in an almost a matter-of-fact way, as if this terrible, unstoppable circus of brutish goings is on the very warp and weft of life in rooms like this when lots of people and dream-like, nightmarish approximations of people gather together. These rooms are too crowded to be comfortable. There is such a jumble of ritual going on here that it is almost a laboratory.

This woman who is suffering circumcision is being overseen by a figure with boggling eyes. He is half a mannequin and half a slick, nightclub Nazi. The terrible banality of rape is transformed – perhaps transfigured would be a better word – into a kind of grotesque, enforced public entertainment. In a monstrous mock-pietà called Lamentation, a huge, lumpishly oppressive Christ-substitute has fallen from a ladder, and now he lies, legs fully booted, across the knees of a barefoot, bewildered child/woman whose expression suggests that she will never be shot of him. What is horrible is quite clinically so – a nurse binds a woman h twine h great deliberation.

The merry-go-round never stops clanking and turning. The tune it plays, over and over, grates terribly on the ear. It is also unstoppable.



To 20 August (020 7629 5161)

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect