'OUR WORK IS SO DIFFERENT THAT CONFLICT IS VERY UNLIKELY'

Artist Paula Rego, 61, has been a mentor to Laura Godfrey Isaacs, 30, since they met while Godfrey Isaacs was studying at the Slade art school in London, where Rego was a visiting lecturer

Paula Rego: "I was passionately interested in Laura's work, and I was curious to see what she would do next.

"I just went in to her studio one day and said: 'What have you done now? Let's have a look.'

"For me, our relationship has been good, not because I taught her but because seeing her work also helped me with my own. It's not that you copy something, it isn't as simple as that, but it is very exciting when you see somebody doing something different, something you hadn't thought of. Sometimes I'd say one thing and something completely different would happen; that is exciting, too. It feeds you as an artist.

"We shared things, all sorts of things. Art, clothes, stuff like that, it's all part of the same thing anyway. There is no separation between life and art.

"People who go to art school are artists: they may be young, but they have committed themselves. We are equal, except they have less practice than I have because I've done it for a long time.

"When you're a student you get very, very depressed and never think it is going to be all right. Being a 'mentor' is about being encouraging, mostly, of saying: 'Stick with it, no matter what. Follow your nose. Try and do what you really want to do.'

"This idea that you have to knock artists in order that they fight back is a load of balls. I don't like teaching one bit. What made it bearable was having Laura and the other women in her studio there. They saved my life, they were my friends.

"As you get older you still need encouragement because you are not sure what you are doing most of the time. Age and success makes no difference at all, really. You just trust yourself a bit more."

Laura Godfrey Isaacs: "I am the first artist in my family, so I got no active encouragement as I was growing up. I had to fight to do what I wanted to do. By the time I met Paula I was desperate for a role model. She was the first female lecturer I had ever had. She had become successful fairly late in life, and that was inspiring. There is a lot of emphasis on being very successful very young.

"Like Paula, my sensibility is not British but we were both trained in the British figurative tradition. Knowing she had the same preoccupations was encouraging.

"After the Slade we carried on being friends. What she has done for me is very profound. At college there was this feeling that if you were a serious artist it would be inadvisable to have children. Paula has three and has carried on making work throughout; and her work has blossomed. I now have a baby daughter.

"As well as the warmth and vitality there is a steeliness, an evil in Paula's work. It has been very important to me that her work is very seductive but also has this real nastiness. It is not easy, or sugary. Our work is so different on the surface that conflict is very unlikely.

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