To listen to more of Paula Rego’s stories, go to the playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsBPrqEQ7BA&list=PLVV0r6CmEsFzU-oa0MJd4-eI6tixW5r4F
Born in 1935, Portuguese painter Paula Rego became part of the London Group in 1965, was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989 and became the first Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London in 1990. Her work is strongly influenced by folk and fairy tales. [Listener: Catherine Lampert]
TRANSCRIPT: I came in to England to a finishing school... Yeah. First of all, and Mr Bradshaw got me an — was the teacher of... of art there — got me an interview at Chelsea. And I went along with a portfolio, just by myself, and I got in. He said, ’Oh, these are very good, you can come in’. And then my guardians in London said, ’She can’t go to Chelsea because we know of a girl who got pregnant in Chelsea’. And I mean, you don’t want that sort of thing happening, and so the Slade is the best place. University girls never get pregnant there. So I said, ’Okay’, so I got a portfolio together and they... they took it to the Slade. They said, ‘We don’t want this... this is... this is rubbish’, they said, ’This is rubbish’. ‘Oh, never mind, never mind’, said my tutor, you know, ’They’re quite well off, she’ll go off and get married quite quickly, he won’t... it won’t make any difference. She won’t be here very long’. And so they said, ’Okay, she can come in part-time’.
[C. L] But was this Coldstream or Ian Tregarthen Jenkins who let you in? Uh? Who let you in, Coldstream or...?
Coldstream. Coldstream said yuh. He said, ’Oh, she can come in part-time’. And... and like Craigie was in, Craigie Aitchison was in part-time as well. And I was in part-time and I used to go three times a week and then I went every day. It didn’t make any difference anyway, I went every day. And I said... and then I... then they said, ’Oh, she’s okay, after all, so we’ll let her stay’. So I stayed. And started oil paintings on easels, and...? I started doing drawings in the Antique Room; that’s what we had to do first, all these... these figures there like that and we used to try and copy them. It was very difficult because they had no hard edges, it was very difficult to do. I got so bored doing that. So they put... allowed me to go the life class immediately so I could draw from the model. So I started drawing from the model; we had little donkeys that we perched on and a drawing board and I drew from the model. I liked that, I liked drawing from the model; we had some nice models. We had the lady that I still have the picture of, who had bells on her shoes. When she got up to rest you’d hear bells tinkling. She was quite a character, wonderful, so I did a portrait of her... portrait of her, not... it wasn’t an art... it was a portrait really. Yup. And several others as well. But, at the same time as this, the also... Slade also encouraged doing things from the imagination. They didn’t stop me ever. I always had a corner in the Antique Room where I could put up an easel and a canvass and do a picture from my head. Mm, from your head. Yeah, from my head. So there was always one going on.
[C. L] Did you do Summer composition? Did you do the...
Summer compositions, of course I did.
[C. L] Where they had a theme, yeah.
I loved that because I loved being given a theme to do and I thought that was such a good idea. And I did that. I also decorated the first Christmas party when I got there, of 'Alice in Wonderland'. I did a huge... a huge paper decoration like the ones I used to do at St Julian’s, of 'Alice in Wonderland'.