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Coping with Victor Willing's death

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Changing themes within my pictures
Paula Rego Artist
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I began to... I began to do pictures more in three-dimensional — three dimension — and the first one I did was The Soldier’s Daughter where the... where she’s got a... a goose between her legs. The... that’s right... that’s right. That’s not right because before that... before that I did a... a series of girls and dogs and there were girls like pray, the girls were looking out to sea. There was a girl... a girl playing with a dog and there was a... a crab on its back, also at sea, and there was a series of those very chunky... very chunky pictures that I showed at Totah. And they sold... they sold. I think even the Arts Council bought one. We... we definitely bought one. You bought one, that’s right, Sleeping, that’s right. We bought one, yea. And Anne Berthoud bought one or two and... Yeah, yeah, lots of people bought them. And there was, you... you know, you made some money. And it was fantastic. I thought, God. And then it was at that point that I moved to the Marlborough Gallery, I’m sorry, but... it was a big chance, you know, and so then I started to do... Then I... it was then that I did the girls because I remember the Marlborough sent me a goose. And I opened this case and out came this vast creature with enormous wings and it was a goose. And Lila... I had Lila by then. Lila put it between her legs and held it. It was not alive; it was dead. And I drew the goose very carefully and the picture was The Soldier’s Daughter With boots and all. And then came the boot, which was The Policeman’s Daughter, which is the girl with her hand into the boot, polishing her father’s boots, you know, and there’s a cat looking up to see who’s... who’s going to come in. And... you know ‘cause she’s doing her duty, as she’s probably bullied by her dad anyway. And she became a sacrificial creature because the goose became her; the dress... the dress that had been white... you remember that drawing... that drawing that Freud did about the virgin and... and Saint Anne and the child. He did a drawing around those figures and that became a pelican, I think, a pelican or buzzard. And I thought: that’s interesting, I’m going to use this... that image and make the... the goose turn into the policeman’s daughter as a sacrificial person. And I did. She’s got a white frock and so-on and she’s cleaning his boot. Then I did... I did then... yeah, I did The Maids after Jean Genet and I did The Family, which is... which was about Vic, about the... two of the girls trying to make him come alive. It’s... it’s really... I called it The Raising of Lazarus, I remember, and I said... Miss... Miss Beston used to work at the Marlborough, came to see it in my studio, and I said, tut, ‘I don’t know what to call it’. She said ’Call it The Family, that goes for everything’. So, instead of The Raising of Lazarus, which would have been rather, you know, she said, ’Call it...’ so I called it The Family They were trying anything to get their father come alive, rubbing themselves against him and everything. And there’s a girl praying, a miraculous girl praying there as well, and again, a box with saints in and so-on.

And Vic was still alive because he was in the bedroom at home and he was working from his bed. Lila, who then became my model — was already my model — used to hold... hold up canvasses to him, mix the colours for him, give him the brush and then he’d draw. He knew exactly what he wanted to draw. He’d stay hours thinking, just looking at the canvass and then when he drew, he drew it straight out, these funny portraits he did. And so he was... he was in bed, you see, at the priors and in the evening, when I had trouble, I used to roll up my canvasses and bring them to the house. And I used to stick them up on the wall and ask his opinion and what I... should I do to it. And I remember I brought The Maids in, I painted The Maids with a lot of furniture and everything and I hung it up on the wall. And he said: ’Well, you know, you’ve got some very well-drawn, painted figures there but really, just paint out the whole of the background’, which I did, of course, and which you can’t quite understand because there’s a kind of a sky and so-on. But it’s improved it no end because the... the furniture was just a mess. And so I did. So I used to do that. And then the last picture I did, which was a kind of goodbye picture to him, was called Departure And it’s a... it’s got a boy sitting there with a... with a... a trunk, waiting to go into the army, I think, and the maid’s behind him combing his hair, getting him ready to go. And I think it was a way of, you know, he... he’s going to go away now and therefore... and I brought the picture for him to see, you know, and he said: ’That’s the best’. So I think... I think he recognised it for what it was and that’s the best. Unfortunately, it was the picture that was burnt in the fire at Momart, yea, but I’ve got drawings for it. So then that stopped; then he died.

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, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2007

Date story went live: 17 July 2008