I’ve always counted Paula Rego among my favourite artists, but before I watched this documentary (Paula Rego: Secrets and Stories) I didn’t know the half of her life story, and how it has fed into her pictures. Having now sat down and watched in riveted attention twice over, I’m finding her work all the more resonant.
One thing to take away from this film is the fact that she’s clearly worked away at her drawing every single day for years, driven — to the detriment of her maternal duties, as she freely admits! I’m always captivated (and slightly jealous) of those who have followed the life of an artist to the exclusion of all else, although beguiling as it is to see her many-coloured pastels and huge artist’s studio, there’s nothing to envy in the life story that unfolds. She endured poverty, a difficult marriage, multiple abortions, and the terminal illness of her husband before becoming the celebrated artist of today.
Art aside, it’s amazing to see a life that was captured so thoroughly in home movies and photographs. Rego was a stunning younger woman: you get to see her from childhood through to the older lady she is now.
Unfortunately, I think you can only watch if you’re in the UK, and it’s only up on the BBC site until 23 April*; however, it has all the signs of a film that will also be travelling to arthouse cinemas and festivals, so keep an eye out if you can.
Now perhaps it’s rather crass to take such inspiration and turn it into something consumerist, but one side effect of having seen the art-materials pornography of those vibrant sticks in close-up as they press and crumble against the sugar paper, was that I went and bought a nice new set of pastels. To be fair to myself, I had also been a very brave person and endured root canal surgery that day, so I was due some kind of treat.
I took my pastels to my regular life-drawing slot this week and really enjoyed the ease of use – I’ve been having a hard time recently, struggling a bit with watercolour and pencil crayon, so it was nice to work at a larger scale and more freely. I’m no Paula Rego, but, hey, I can smoosh pastels onto paper with the best of them.
The model was Frankie, whose hair is a wonder to behold: it really is that long, and she goes by the name of Floor-length Frankie.
*If I have counted properly, but the BBC tell you what date it went up and how many days it’ll be available, and I’m not sure how they calculate the start day. Do just hurry, as I’d hate for you to miss it by one day just because of my poor understanding of calendars.