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Life with Lavendar in London town

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Paula Rego

It was London that introduced me to Paula Rego twelve years ago. I was on a visit to the Tate Britain and had wandered into the gallery shop as my first port of call. Stacked on every bare surface was a tomb-like, coffee table art book with the name PAULA REGO inscribed bluntly on the front cover. Next to the name was a picture of a woman on her knees by the seaside, baying like a dog at the moon.

Who was she?
Why was she wearing a blue miniskirt on the beach?
Why is she howling on her knees?

I opened the book and sunk instantly into the dark, staunch, sinister, bawdy, ephemeral, fleshy world of Ms Rego; artist and storyteller. There was something about the way she told a story or portrayed an emotion in her work that seemed very real, brave and uncompromising to me. I liked her guts and her fearless exploration of women's lives and realities. I liked how her work presented myth, archetypes and fairytales as part of daily life as opposed to being in a separate realm.

Twelve years later with a small collection of Paula Rego books on my shelf and a little bit of knowledge about the woman herself, I was wandering around another London institution - Selfridges. As I perused the racks of clothes that I couldn't afford to buy, I spotted a familiar figure out of the corner of my eye. A short, dark haired Portuguese woman with hooded eyes,shaded in smoky, blue-gray makeup.

I reeled in shock. Could it be?

I sneaked another look. Yes it was.

There is an opinion that it is never good to meet your heroes and idols. That they all end up having feet of clay. But on that day when I came face-to-face with one of mine, she was graciousness itself. She signed my scrappy piece of paper and listened patiently as I stammered about how much I loved her work and that my favourite piece was The Dance.

Well, she said casually, You should come to the talk I'm doing at the Royal Academy. It's on soon.

I went of course and spent a delightful hour listening to Paula being interviewed as talked about her work. A born raconteur, she prattled irreverently, sharp and funny, littering her speech with perfectly placed swear words delivered in the most precise, lady-like manner. I sat there listening and wished she'd never shut up.

Paula is one of Britain's art treasures and her work can be found at the Tate Britain, Saatchi Gallery and the Marlborough Gallery. There is also the soon to be opened Casa das Historias Paula Rego; a new museum in Cascais, Portugal which will be dedicated to her work.

I wish on the day I met her, I had asked:

What is he thinking about?

Whenever I have looked at The Dance in the past twelve years, I haved wondered that. Perhaps it's good I didn't ask. That way it will keep me wondering for at least twelve more.

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