Remembering Radical Artist Paula Rego

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Paula Rego, 2021
Portrait of Paula Rego, 2021© Nick Willing

The celebrated artist – known for her blistering, emotive work – has passed away aged 87

Today it was announced that the Portuguese-British visual artist Dame Paula Rego has passed away aged 87. The news was confirmed in a tweet from contemporary art gallery Victoria Miro, which is currently hosting an exhibition of her works at its Venice outpost until June. “She died peacefully this morning, after a short illness, at home in North London, surrounded by her family,” read the statement. 

Rego’s powerful painted works, storybooks and prints were fearless and poignant, often depicting instances of sex trafficking, abortion and female genital mutilation. They were never intended to make their audience feel at ease; instead, with her unwavering works, Rego drew attention to much of the plight women face around the world.

Born in 1935 in Lisbon, Portugal, she moved to London in 1951 and enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art. In this formative period, she met the British painter Victor Willing, with whom she began an affair. She terminated numerous pregnancies since Willing was then a married man, and abortion would later crop up in her paintings – particularly in the 1998 Abortion Series, which depicts women in the aftermath of illegal procedures, and has been credited as swaying a second referendum in Portugal where abortion was finally legalised in 2007. Rego and Willing later married in 1959, and had three children together.

Rego rose to prominence after exhibiting with the prestigious London Group, which had David Hockney and Frank Auerbach among its members. Since then, she has had solo shows globally, including a blockbuster exhibition at Tate Britain last year. “Emotions don’t have to come into it,” she told AnOther in 2018. “I feel what I feel but that’s it. I’m trying to get the picture to be as near the truth as possible,” she added. “It doesn’t work being other people. It’s best to do what you want. Being me is the only thing I’m good at.”