New pictures by Paula Rego are on view at Marlborough Fine Art in London, pastels as vigorously drawn and strongly coloured as ever that qualify for the term paintings, chosen by the gallery.They include large vertical works alongside ones in more conventionalformat.Many have multiple figures, human and animal, all at different scales, crowded together in spatial confusion and spilling over each other with pictorial yet unemotional engagement.There is a nightmarish atmosphere, of familiar forms shape-shifting into odd, then grotesque, then scary presences; of uncertain, changeable, unsettling perspectives; of faces looming and receding, limbs sprawling, heads lolling like limp puppets.
Maybe the jumbled groups are less disturbing than some earlier works with more realism or sinister themes, and the simpler compositions seem less angry, albeit far from easeful.They are full of graphic energy and visual challenge and still very compelling, not least because they trick the viewer into seeking narrative sense within the cartoon-like ensemble.
At the Tate Pre-Raphaelites exhibition recently, Paula Rego enthused to me about PRB storytelling, and one can see the connection.Her new works are inspired by folklore sources – those of the commedia dell’arte, that of the Dama Pe de Cabra (Goat-Foot Woman), a medieval portuguese tale retold in the early 19th century, and more unexpectedly , the burlesque poem Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc that begins ‘Do you remember an inn, Miranda? ‘ and recalls ‘the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees / And the wine that tasted of tar?’ The Goat-Foot woman left is one of the visually more restrained pictures.
The exhibition includes a unique glimpse into the making of these images, with the life-size props used for the picture Playground, arranged in real rather than two-dimensional space; stuffed, modelled in papier mache, painted and clothed, the group is described as a sculptural maquette and suggest that Rego could move frompictures to installations (maybe she has).If one thought she had reached the top of her game, in that over-used phrase, it’s clear there is still more invention, strength, humour, subversion, all elbowing for expression.