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19th century costumes in my Jane Eyre pictures


Living without Victor Willing
Paula Rego Artist
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I’ve got myself to think about, and my... my family, which are very, very important to me, very important to me. They are collaborators in a way, and Lila, and all my... my team who work with me, and Tony works with me too. But I think that, I work... I work much — I think — probably work much more now, even Amara was done after... in the last 20 years, and I’ve done more prints and so on. I come here, I work, I go home, I go to the movies, it’s... it’s, I guess it’s... it’s quite a dull life. I don’t have anything special that has happened. I’ve had, you know, I’ve been homaged, or whatever you call it, with degrees. I’ve been once to Rhode Island, which I enjoyed very much. I went there to teach, and I loved being there. They were so kind to me, and I loved Rhode Island, but, I don’t... I haven’t... I haven’t... I’ve worked, really. And be true to yourself, you’re your own best friend, that’s what... what Vic wrote to me, before he died, he said that to me. And I thought, well, I don’t know who to ask for advice, and so on, so I don’t get that either, you know. I don’t talk to anybody about my pictures, at all. That is something that I... I do... I must say I do miss, and very few people... nobody comes to look, except the people who work with me, and I find that rather... rather difficult. But, you know, it’s the way it is anyway. There’s nothing... there’s nothing, I can’t think of anything. I mean, there’s ups and downs, you know, I mean, I’m actually a... I’m actually a manic depressive person, and what they call bipolar fashionably, now. It doesn’t sound right, bipolar, does it? It sounds like, the sort of, North Pole or something. But anyway, I have got that... I have got that affliction, and sometimes I have the... the lowest of lows, which has happened to me ever since I was 14, I remember. And happened to me in the ‘60s, and it happened to me last year, really, really badly. I mean, I... it’s... it’s like being in hell. And therefore, that happens to me occasionally, so that is something that... you... you work just the same, but it’s very, very frightening. So there’s that aspect, you know, everyday life, you... you dream badly and you know, it’s that sort of thing.

Somebody might say, one of the most creative stimulus’s for your, for... stimulus’s for your art has been persistent fear, though. It’s quite a... Fear? Yeah, it’s quite a... when you talk about childhood fear, and physical surrounding fear, and abandonment fear, whatever else...

Fear... fear is... is probably the most... the most, important thing. When I was very young, and I had my first showing in Lisbon, it was said that I’d said ‘I paint to give a face to fear’, but in fact it wasn’t I who said it, it was Alberto de Lacerda, the poet who died yesterday. He said that; that I painted to give a face to fear. Well, I mean, you might as well look at it, mightn’t you, because you can. If you can... if you can and you have the courage to do it, because sometimes you don’t want to look, and... yes, it’s very uncomfortable and very, very, very scary, and your arms tingle and everything, I don’t like it, you know? Which is so different from... , because, I think internal fear is just as bad as, I’m sure, external, you know, the police state fear, or the fear that, you know, people all round the world have, that, you know, somebody’s going to come and machine gun them, or something. You know, we don’t have that fear in London, really. Well, not yet, no. That I don’t know, really. No, I was really afraid of everything, always, and it... and it abated a little bit, 'cause now I’m older, it doesn’t make so much difference, but it’s still there, in all sorts of things. I don’t know what it is, but it’s... it’s like a chemical... I think it’s a kind of chemical that lives in your brain, and it affects part of your brain, and... and that part of it goes a funny colour, and then that you’re affected... affected with... with those what you call feelings. But it’s feelings that are physical, as well, it’s a phys... it’s a physical thing, and it’s, horrible actually, that’s really horrible, yeah. And I mean one just hopes that it isn’t going to get worse, as you get older, you don’t know... you don’t know what’s in store for you, and that would be... that would be horrible.

Portuguese painter Paula Rego (1935-2022) 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: 5 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2007

Date story went live: 17 July 2008