Paula Rego: Oratorio, Marlborough Fine Art, London
Nightmare visions are a revelation
Tuesday 20 July 2010
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)
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Skrillex and Diplo's 24-hour DJ set shut down by police after 18 hours
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Aidan Turner interview: 'being a sex symbol is a little awkward'
Oscars 2015: Get a sneak peek inside this year's outrageous $125,000 goodie bags
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'