Therapy in Paula Rego’s art


Portugal-born artist Paula Rego has voiced hopes that a collection of works that she painted years ago when she was suffering from depression, and which were put on show to the public for the first time ever this week, could help raise awareness about what she called a “horrible illness”.

The exhibition at the Marlborough Fine Art gallery, titled ‘Depression Series’, was inaugurated on Tuesday and organised to coincide with the screening by the BBC of a documentary by Rego’s son, Nick Willing, on her life and work.

The exhibition is made up of 11 large-scale works of pastel on paper that the artist produced in 2006 and 2007, a period when she was suffering from depression, which have never been put on public display.

“I was trying to escape from depression through painting. But at the time I didn’t want people to see them because I felt ashamed of being so depressed. So I hid them, fearing that, if I put them on show, my depression would come back.”

It was during filming for the documentary, titled ‘Paula Rego: Stories and Secrets’, that her son asked to see the paintings.

Paula Rego – The Dance 1988

“Since 10 years had already gone by, I felt sufficiently courageous to look at them again. It’s funny, but now I don’t remember making them”, she added.

In an interview with UK newspaper The Guardian, Willing said that he had seen the works for the first time during filming, after asking his mother about her struggle with depression.

Now these self-portraits – a kind of work that Rego has rarely produced – will be on show first at the London gallery that represents her, until 1 April, and then most likely at the museum in Portugal that is devoted to her work, the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, in Cascais, near Lisbon.

“I agreed to show them at the Marlborough and the Casa das Histórias to raise awareness about the horrible illness”, Rego said.

The works offer an unprecedented peek into the private life of an artist who is known for being protective of it and for appearing only rarely at public events.

The documentary, which is to be premiered on BBC2 on 25 March, includes excerpts from home movies and family photographs, as well as interviews with Rego over some 60 years, resulting in a deep and wide-ranging portrait of the artist.

Rego said the film made her happy, and that it “is very good and sincere.”

Born in Lisbon in 1935, Rego grew up in the region but studied art in London, where she married a fellow artist, Victor Willing (1928-1988). After a spell working in Portugal, she moved permanently to London in the 1970’s.