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Arnolfini opens an exhibition of works by Paula Rego
Paula Rego, Children and their Stories, 1989. Etching and aquatint, plate size 33.9 x 52.3 cm/ paper size 56.9 x 57.7 cm., edition of 75 with 14 Artist Proofs. Courtesy Paula Rego and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London ©️ Paula Rego.

BRISTOL.- Arnolfini presents the work of Portuguese artist Dame Paula Rego RA - unarguably one of the most important figurative artists of her generation – delving into her extraordinary imagination and celebrating the alchemical process of printmaking that is as central to her practice today as it has always been.

Following on from the largest retrospective to date of the artist’s work at Tate Britain (July to October 2021), and exhibitions with Cristea Roberts Gallery (new representatives of the artist’s prints), Hogarth House and Museum de Reede, in Belgium (both 2021) and Victoria Miro (late 2021) Rego returns to Arnolfini almost 40 years after her first exhibition with the gallery (in 1982-83), creating an opportunity for a new generation of visitors to explore the artist’s subversive stories.

Featuring over 70 prints from across Rego’s extensive career, Subversive Stories ventures inside the artist’s disquieting imagination in which she casts herself as storyteller and master puppeteer, interweaving her wit and dark humour to reimagine stories old and new. In Rego’s world women loom monstrously large, repositioned as the protagonists and heroes as she reinterprets classic tales, imbuing innocence with a darker sexuality, and instilling issues of gender, power, and politics with both light and shade.

Exploring printmaking as a process that informs Rego’s multi-layered interpretations, the exhibition looks deeper at Rego’s mastery of the medium (encompassing lithography, etching and screen print) as printmaking takes on a metaphorical meaning, bringing shadowy readings to childish mischief, whereas as the harrowing practices of illegal abortion or female genital mutilation are brought out into the light.

Drawing on Rego’s childhood, familiar faces from past and present appear throughout, and dreams and nightmares come alive through the immediacy of the medium; its spontaneity feeding Rego’s constant curiosity and vivid imagination. This celebration of the artist’s enduring appeal reveals the multi-layered and magical language of printmaking, creating surreal and subversive stories with not so ‘wicked’ women at their heart.

Rego comments: “I have very fond memories of showing at the Arnolfini in 1983 and am looking forward to showing my prints there next year. When the prints are shown well, their stories dominate, so I’m very interested to see how it all comes together.”

Paula Rego is represented by Cristea Roberts Gallery, the worldwide representative for her original prints and Victoria Miro, representatives of original works.

Dame Paula Rego RA was born in Lisbon in 1935. After attending finishing school in Kent, England, she studied at the Slade School of Art in London between 1952–56. In 1957 she returned to live in Portugal with her husband, the painter Victor Willing, and their three children, before finally settling in London in 1963. Rego came to prominence in Britain after her first major solo exhibition at the Air Gallery, London, in 1981 and subsequently at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 1988, which was followed by her becoming the first National Gallery artist in residence in 1990.

Rego explores themes of power, rebellion, sexuality and gender, grief and poverty, often through female protagonists. One of the most important figurative artists of her generation, her work ranges from painting, pastel, and prints to sculptural installations.

Rego made her first prints, experimenting with etching in the 1950s, at the Slade School of Art. In the 1980s she began to focus more closely on the medium and has since produced a profound body of work as a printmaker, including her coveted series The Nursery Rhymes, 1989, a group of over 30 etchings that are housed in major museum collections all over the world. From 1991 to 1996 the Arts Council of England and the British Council toured this body of work to venues in the UK, USA, Spain, Portugal and Asia. Her prints not only possess the extraordinary imaginative power of her paintings, but reflect the innovative possibilities of the medium through her experimentation with etching, lithography and aquatint, often employing hand-colouring in the process.

Amongst her numerous awards and honours, Rego has represented Britain and Portugal at the São Paulo Biennale and has received honorary doctorates from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and from the Rhode Island School of Design in the US. In 2010 she was made a Dame of the British Empire and won the MAPFRE Foundation Drawing Prize in Madrid. In 2016 she was elected a Senior Royal Academician and in 2019 she received the Portuguese Government's Medal of Cultural Merit. In 2017 the BBC broadcast a documentary, Paula Rego: Secrets and Stories, directed by Rego's son, Nick Willing, which provided a unique insight into the artist's life and work.

In 2006 the Portuguese government commissioned a museum dedicated to Rego which opened in 2009. The Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, located in a district outside Lisbon, permanently houses Rego’s entire collection of over 200 prints alongside drawings, preparatory works and paintings loaned by the artist. Major solo exhibitions of Rego’s work have recently taken place at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, which toured from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh and MK Gallery, Milton Keynes (2019-2020); Musée de L’Orangerie, Paris (2018); La Virreina Centro de la Imagen, Barcelona (2018); Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2017); Pallant House, Chichester (2017).

Prior to this Rego had been accorded solo exhibitions and retrospectives at the Gulbenkian Foundation, Paris (2012); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, which toured to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C; (2007); Serralves Museum, Porto (2004); Tate Britain, London (2004); Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal and the Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut (2001); Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (1998); Tate Liverpool (1997); National Gallery, London (1991); Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (1988); Serpentine Gallery, London (1988). Her work is housed in major public and museum collections all over the world.

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