SOMETIMES a breakdown is actually a breakthrough, as evidenced by Dame Paula Rego in her son Nick Willing’s groundbreaking documentary Secrets and Stories. Willing made the film after his mother finally began to open up in her 80s. Rego is a paradox. Both wildly confessional and pathologically secretive, her contradictory nature is as apparent in her work as it is in her conversational style.
During the making of the aforementioned documentary, Rego exhumed a body of work from her studio that she never expected to introduce to anyone (let alone the general public). Created during her worst bout of depression a decade ago, they were totems to the mindset she was trapped in. Rego felt that should expose the pieces, she would also unleash her depression again.
She made peace with the pictures in the film and has resurrected them by allowing the gallery that represents her, Marlborough Fine Arts to display them for two weeks this month. Given her playful relationship with the grotesque, staunchly unapologetic attitude towards her often controversial values, and already open attitude towards depression, the series of work she vanquished from her ouevre may strike the viewer as benign. They could easily leave one wondering what all the hype is about.
However, this is the nature of depression. It is a personal struggle and individual monuments to it need not be judge by others. In fact, as demonstrated in this cathartic tandem creative exposition of an art show an documentary, they ought to be embraced. This acceptance effectively stripped Rego’s relics of their morbid power.
The 11 large scale pastels have been liberated from the drawer she intended to leave them locked in for eternity not only for her healing but also in an effort to raise awareness about depression. She hopes that by showing them here in London and in the museum dedicated to her in Portugal, the Casa das Historias Paula Rego, the stigma surrounding depression will diminish.
Posed using her long-term model and assistant Lila Nunes, Rego’s are a series of self portraits , showing herself in voluminous black clothing being swallowed by oversized pieces of furniture. While the content may seem rather innocuous , there is something jarring about the visceral side of them. Slumped, slouched, or doubled over, the subject consistently conveys that she has been defeated.
The colour palette is not black and white but is almost binary in it’s use of sombre, dark shades with flat shades of beige of yellow. This could be a nod to the stratified moods that a depressed person often experiences. To witness the alchemical turn from breakdown to breakthrough, visit the show at Marlborough Fine Arts, London, prior to the first of April.
by Yasmin Bilbeisi