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Changing themes within my pictures

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Paula Rego Artist
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When my father... my father died — had already died — in 1966. ’66 was the year that Vic was diagnosed with MS, that my father died, my grandfather... my father-in-law died. And I took him... because I was drinking quite heavily and I remember taking him to the... hospital, the University College Hospital, in a taxi. And the private wing he was in, and he was going to die, you know. I took him there; went with him... and he said to me, ’Look, you know, just drop the bottle and pick up the brush. It’s no good this’, because I was, you know, really knocking it back. And I said, ’Yes, yes’, you know, and took him to the hospital. He died. And then it was... it was a disaster because he’d left a firm in Portugal, that he’d started and had never been successful, to make measuring instruments. And... Vic decided that he — because we had no money — that he was going to go there and try and run it as a business. So we up and went to Portugal and Vic became a businessman and I had to entertain all these English business people to dinner and I still went on drawing. But it was very difficult really with Vic and we got in more and more trouble... more and more trouble because it wasn’t successful. And it ended badly because, in the meantime, the wonderful revolution of ’74 — the 25th April — happened, which was we got rid of the dictatorship. It was called the Revolution of Carnations; all the soldiers carried carnations with them, it was all patriotic and wonderful and da da da.

But what happened was that it wasn’t so good for business because we wouldn’t get business from England and we couldn’t get businesses and of course the people who were employed were always having meetings and all that sort of thing. So we couldn’t, you know, couldn’t get anything done. And then they thought we was... we were getting money out; in fact we were putting money in because I’d mortgaged everything, put all the money in there, everything, even my mother’s house, put all the money in the business. My... my quinta in Ericeira was lost because of that. And at one time we were even chased because they thought... people thought that we were, we were, you know, doing crooked things with the money, but there wasn’t any money. On the contrary, there was not... no money at all.

So in any case we... Vic became sicker and sicker. I became more and more... it was horrible. I remember cooking for these Englishmen. I tell you something, I... I was cooking these lobsters for the... I was cooking these lobsters on a fire... a cooker with wood, you know, that you heat up with wood. And lob... when you cook lobsters you’ve got to tie them up, otherwise they flap their way out. Well, I didn’t tie them up, I didn’t tie them up; I must have been sloshed or something. I... that evening I spent hours trying to push those lobsters back into the boiling water and they were screaming and screaming, going urgh! Urgh! And Vic was in bed and I was alone in the kitchen with nobody and this Englishman was upstairs. And I was trying to boil these lobsters. I shall never forget that, these bloody lobsters. Finally, I put the lid on and pressed them in and they boiled, my God, sort of symbolic of... of you know, trying to crawl out of... of a pit, you know, which is what we were trying to do. Oh, my God. And that was nearly the ruination of us all in every way. I managed to make the money back to pay... to pay. From art, not from the business. From art... from art believe it or not, because in the meantime Vic had a show at the Air Gallery again, before me, because Moira Kelly was running it and he sold a couple of pictures, huge.

But he came back, he came back from this experience, could not walk properly... on crutches. He rented a large studio, in Bethnal Green one of them was, and the other one was not in Bethnal Green, but I cannot remember. It was actually in... near Shelcott Road. It was a huge factory and he had a room in there and he’d go... go there. And sometimes he’d sleep there. And he... in that condition he started painting these vast pictures, vast. I remember Alberto, our friend Alberto, died yesterday, saying, ’Who on earth is going to buy that big stuff, you know, for heaven’s sake’. But he did, he sold them. He had fantastic courage, fantastic courage. I mean, I... if it was me, I’d just walk... colour some more prints or something, but no, he went big... for the big... he went all the way. And he did that and then finally he moved to another studio and he had a residency in Cambridge, where he did more work, but he couldn’t reach the top of the pictures ‘cause he was in a wheelchair. So he had the gardener turn the pictures upside down so he could do the top of the picture down there. And he did all this and he worked really hard, and he managed to get a lot of pictures together then he showed at the Whitechapel. And it was extraordinary courage... extraordinary courage actually. And anyway, so in the meantime I was fiddling around with my own junk and... and showing it to him for his... for his, you know, he could help me. He helped me... always helped me. He was never, never nasty; he always helped me. Or jealous or envious that you were healthy? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think he was envious of me at all. Why should he be envious of me? He was much better than I was, you know, nothing to be envious of at all. Only envious that you were healthy and had a future, you know. Oh, envious that I was healthy and I had a future, exactly. Well, he could have been, but he wasn’t. No, he... he wasn’t. At least he didn’t show it. I remember that was... and then, so that’s it. And I ended up in the Marlborough, where I am today.

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, especially those of her homeland.

Listeners: Catherine Lampert

Catherine Lampert is an independent curator, art historian and Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts. She was director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1988-2001) and has been a model for Frank Auerbach since 1978. Her recent projects include exhibitions of Rodin (Royal Academy 2006) and Lucian Freud (Dublin, Denmark and The Hague 2007-2008) as well as a book on Francis Alys (Turner Libros) and a catalogue raisonné of Euan Uglow's paintings (Yale University Press 2007).

Duration: 6 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2007

Date story went live: 17 July 2008