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I learnt everything, except science
Paula Rego Artist
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I went to school in Estoril, and my school... all we did was rehearse dancing, in tutus, like this. ‘Eu sou o A do papá’, which is like we used to sing: ‘Eu sou o A do papá’. And we used to be... each have a letter and pretend that we were letters and stuff like that, and we’d do these performances at the casino in Estoril, this when we were like seven. And we didn’t do any learning. We’d learnt the stories and stuff like that. We did... I had a lovely time. My parents then discovered that I didn’t know anything, didn’t know... even how to add or anything. And they said this can’t go on like this, she’s got to learn something. So they got me this teacher at home, Donna Violetta. Donna Violetta came from the official school, yes. She had these great big tits and she wore an angora mauve pullover, my dear, and she was absolutely horrifying. God, when she was about to come and teach, she'd come to the house three times a week to teach me at home. And I had a blackboard put up in my playroom, can you imagine? And she’d come up; I’d watch her coming up the hill and I used to start sweating and sweating. And I was frightened of her because she’d whack me. Anyway...- Suffocate you. She'd smack, ‘You stupida’, and things like that, you know. Anyway I learnt, you bet I learnt, I learnt the third class and fourth class; after the fourth class I said ‘I’m never going to see this woman again ever’. So I passed my exams, very good, distinction and everything, and then finish, and then English school.

My parents then put me in English school, Saint Julian's school in Carcavelos to start doing English. But I knew... I spoke English already because I’d had this teacher who’d come to give me lessons in English. But we didn’t have lessons; we just walked amongst the pines and talked to each other, and she was very eccentric family; she was half French. She used to have farting competitions with her father and I thought: 'Oh, my God, this is extraordinarily rude'. Anyway, I thought that was lovely. And she was wonderful, Marie Laure Pla was her name and she introduced me to other possibilities, you know. She introduced me... she gave me... I think she gave me Peter Pan and all the English stories and everything and after that, I went to English school where I started when I was 10. Which is just girls... a girls’ school or with boys? No, a mixed school. Mixed school, yeah. You know it had 23 different nationalities, not just boys and girls, 23 different nationalities, yeah, every kind of nationality, can you imagine? Because they’d all come, you know, from the war; they’d come there. And this was just after the war; it was 1945. And... and it... I liked the school a lot, I liked it. It was good; we did a lot of sport, we did a lot of climbing trees, we did a lot of necking, we did a lot of... a bit later on, not at 10. And we did a lot of... we had a good time. And we learnt a thing or two, learnt Chaucer, learnt all those things, except science: I’ve never learned science, but everything else I did, yes, and I loved it... art. Art: Miss Turnbull who taught... taught us art was wonderful. And then we had a man called Mr Sarsefield. He encouraged you to do everything, paint all the walls, do huge murals of massacres. I did huge murals of Greek massacres and everything, and cities in flames, very appropriate now, imagine, cities in flames. And you had to take... you say all right, now you decorate the whole of the hall of the school. Superb, that’s amazing. I know! And then you’d get these enormous rolls of paper. I remember getting these rolls of paper and just drawing on them, just like, just drawing on them and covering up the walls with... with paint. It was... it was paint mixed with water, you know, the sort of stuff. Yeah, postery paint. Oh, it was such fun and I did it all, I did all that. I just did nothing but really paint.

Did they see you as being quite exceptionally talented though, by this time?

I don’t know whether I was, but they let me do it. Yeah. You see, and it was fantastic. A lot of people got bored at art school... at art class, but I never did; I loved it. And... and my mother, when she had her bazaars as well, she used to have these bazaars to help — English bazaars; they knit things all the time — and when they had these bazaars she also asked me to decorate the... the rooms in the hotels where they had the bazaars. So I used to do cut-out animals and things and put them up and decorate all these rooms, big rooms, all decorated. And I was still very young... Superb! 14, you know, 14, yeah. And, you know, it was good. One day they came home, my parents came home, and I’d done the whole thing in their living room. It was terrible. I’d cut out all sorts of... of paper animals and stuck them all up on the walls. I said... my mother said, ’Oh my God, oh my God, I think you’ll have to take those down’, you know, and I did take them down and burn them. So I was able to do all this, you see. This is all due... thanks to the English school.

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: 5 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2007

Date story went live: 17 July 2008