I thought I would start with some of my best work.
For a university project I wrote a few poems based on the paintings of a Portuguese painter named Paula Rego.
Along with the poems, I have written some comments on the paintings themselves. I hope you enjoy reading them, and also enjoy the paintings.
Paula Rego found her inspiration to paint The Abortion Series in her anger at the prohibition of abortion in Portugal. That is, unless the pregnancy should harm the mother. In 1998 there was a referendum in Portugal for the legalisation of abortion, most people did not vote, due to shame, so those against it won. This infuriated Rego, and she decided to make her statement. In this series of paintings, the women appear in degrading positions, and seem to be going through plenty of pain, either laying or sitting uncomfortably. However, particularly in Untitled VIII, in which the woman has her legs up facing us, she has a triumphant look on her face, suggesting that despite what they are going through alone, the independence and freedom to do what they choose is reward enough for them.
The woman in this painting has strong legs, wide shoulders, rough facial features; she appears defeminised, with a manly body. I believe this might be representing strength and female toughness. This contrasts with Rego’s experience of women being oppressed by men
The woman’s facial expression- triumph- due to freedom reflects that despite being alone, she makes her own decisions and is happy to be independent.
The background- dark and rough- and the stained sheet and dress (in-between her legs) and her dirty feet allow the painting to have more of an impact, without the need for it to be gruesome.
It seems as though she is having an orgasm, as opposed to an abortion, which might be attempting to show the pleasure of being independent and in control of her own life.
This painting is different from the others in this series. The woman seems more submissive, contorted with pain and almost in the foetus position. Her facial expression- eyes shut tight and mouth pressed shut- demonstrates that despite pain she does not complain, not even though grunts.
However, it is similar to others in its use of objects, such as the bucket, to portray the horror of abortion. Dark in contrast with her white dress and skin, the bucket is painted in such a way that it appears disgustingly dirty.
You sitting there, with your legs wide open,
your knees close to your chest,
pressing against your sore breasts.
You who yelp in pain,
whom I have once seen with your books
and pencils and crayons. You with your hair down,
that only yesterday I saw tied in a white
bow. You who through grunts and pain and blood
so purposely commit murder.
Why does your face emanate triumph?
Your expression through the tears and sweat
seems of happiness. Your white dress stained
in red, thick blood seems to illuminate your winner's
smile. Could it be relief? Or simply contentment
for your victory? At the knowledge
that you are saving your creature from a life
of pain and misery? Could it be that you
have foreseen your creature's abhorrent
destiny? You with your feet
painted red, your growing light
dress can no longer cover your dead
nature bursting out.
The Maids, by Paula Rego, is based on a play which, in turn, is based on a real life story. In France, two sisters were hired by a rich family, the Lancelins, as maids. They have always been close to each other and, this time they even got to work together. One night, during an electrical storm, all the lights went out. The oldest sister got into an argument with their mistress, which got out of hand. She told her younger sister to help her by "tearing her eyes out", referring to Madam Lancelin, and together they massacred and gouged out the eyes of the mother and daughter. When the master got home he found the bodies, and the maids were asleep in their bedroom. It has been argued that they were overworked and underpaid, which drove them to madness. However, they had been previously in an institution, and once arrested the oldest could not cope with being away from the youngest. When they were together in prison, their conversations suggested potential incest. The oldest sister, was originally sentence to death, but was allowed to live in prison for the rest of her life, whereas the youngest was released after a few years for good behaviour, and due to belief that she was influenced by the other. Furthermore, due to being without her sister, the oldest died soon afterwards, while the youngest lived until the 21st century.
My interpretation is that the wild boar is a symbol of slaughter. This is due to the fact that in Portugal there is a tradition called "Matança do Porco", in which in the countryside a pig is slaughtered by a family, to represent abundance.
The boar has a threatening look about it, almost as if it is smiling, like the maids.
The figure of Madam Lancelin, according to Rego, “could be a man dressed as a woman”.
It is interesting that she should be portrayed as a man, since men usually are represented as the stronger gender. However, here, Madam, looking like a man, is shown to be submissive by the way she sits head down and recoiled, in contrast with the maid behind her, who is standing with her arms and legs far apart, open. Thus, conveying Rego's representation of women as being stronger than men.
The maid helping the daughter seems to be suffocating her.
In terms of symbolism, there is an ominous shadow tree, which appears to have invisible arms reaching out to touch (potentially strangle) something.
The maids are portrayed as foreign. One appears to be of African descent, while the other may be Hispanic.
The flower, calla lily is associated with funerals, death, but also with purity due to white. Furthermore, it is on the table next to the black boar, which contrast with the white of the calla lily.
Contrast is significant in this painting, particularly between light and shadows, bright colours are juxtaposed against shadows. This gives the impression that things are not as they seem, as if darkness is hiding in the light's shadow. This is reflecting the maids, who are apparently nice, smiling, thorough workers, when in reality they are murderers and incestuous.
The story of the two maids is a dreary one.
Their parents were separated and their eldest sister a nun.
Aside from each other they had no one else.
After being all alone in institutions, they always
tried hard to work together. Until the Lancelin
family took them in. They became live-in maids, working
for the father, mother and daughter. Christine and Lea
were quiet and mainly kept to their common interest, each other.
One evening, they were helping miss and mistress get ready to go out.
Mother and daughter were to meet with Master Lancelin at a friend's house.
The sun was beginning to set, it was beautiful. The blue
sky was covered in red and orange, until the two colours fused
together, so that the sun seemed as if on fire. Once she had finished
her work, Lea went up to her bedroom, where she waited
for her sister who had stayed behind. Outside, a storm was brewing, and as
the sun disappeared, a swarm of dark grey clouds
had swooped in and merged. As the first ray of lightning struck a scream
was heard throughout the house. Lea ran downstairs to her sister's aid, but it was not Christine
who needed help. Christine and the Lancelin women got
into a fierce argument, screaming and scratching each other. Poor
Lea was weak, and under her sister's orders she did "tear Madam's eyes out".
Now the rough roaring sound of thunder made the house
shake with terror. In the darkness it was difficult to see what was going
on, but with the continuous cries and squashing
sounds, it was not hard to guess. In a fit the sisters stretched
out their arms and, so they admitted, with their hands, gouged
out Madam's two eyes, and one of miss's eyes. The storm continued and after
this, they got a kitchen knife, hammer and pewter
pot, and continued to beat and slash up their mistresses
until they were unrecognisable.
Master Lancelin, worried that his family had not yet arrived,
went home to check on them. Once he managed
to walk in, by the candle light he saw the unrecognisable bodies
of his wife and daughter. One last lighting and thunder struck. His daughter's
eye was a few steps away from her carved face. As for
Madam's eyes, they were located in the scarf around her
neck. The storm cleared. The maids were
found upstairs, laying in their bed together.
Nursery Rhyme Series
Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
This painting is based on the nursery rhyme of the same name.
There is a criss-cross shadow in the background, and the three bags full, which are mentioned in the rhyme, appear on the right.
The 'sir' which the black sheep is addressing in the rhyme is substituted here by a girl.
The black sheep is elegant, taller than the girl, has a strong body, and it is staring expectantly at the girl with a confidant smile, as it embraces her. This portrayal allows the audience to recognise it as a male sheep.
As for the girl, although we can't see her face, her hand gesture shows curiosity, as if she is about to stroke his fur. She is seen about to place her hand on top of his heart, thus possibly symbolising a deeper emotion, such as love.
The scene is eroticised, they appear as though they are about to make mutual love.
The painting is voyeuristic. This is shown by the figure of the “boy who lives down the lane”, who seems as though he is looking in through a window, watching the romantic scene.
The boy's body language looks as though he is leaning to see better, this might possibly be Rego’s way of addressing the audience in a somewhat comical way.
The portrayal of the sheep and the girl resembles the story of little red riding hood.
"Baa, baa, black sheep
why are you so tall?"
"It's so that I can see you better
dancing wall to wall."
"Baa, baa, black sheep
why do you stare at me so?"
"Your beauty's great,
yet I await for your dress to un-sew."
"Baa, baa, black sheep
why does your fur feel so smooth?"
"The better for your hands to touch it,
as your skin so suave against my hoof."
Three Blind Mice
This story is also based on the nursery rhyme of the same name.
Rego made two paintings based on this rhyme.
In one, the farmer's wife holds two tails in her right hand and the carving knife in her left hand, she is about to cut the third mice's tail, when he faces her, showing his blind eyes as if begging her not to do it.
The woman has a rural, strong, voluminous body.
The cruelty of the rhyme is portrayed in the two mice's amputated tails, showing the frailty of the mice, as they are walking around disoriented. It also brings life to the rhyme and painting, as the mice seem human, thus we pity their condition.
In the second, less known version, the farmer's wife resembles Eugene Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, due to the position of her body and the flag in the background. Rego affirms that she did have the French revolution in mind.
The knife does not seem as threatening in this version, as it is less sharp, but the mice are portrayed in the same way, with one pleading next to her, and the other two stumbling around, terrified.
This time the woman has all three tails in her hand, thus she completed her mission, with a triumphant look about her. This makes this version more terrifying than the other.
In the two version, the two mice away from farmer's wife seem as though they might be performing a ritualistic dance.
Three blind mice, three blind mice
see how the dance, see how they dance
one begs and pleads to the farmer's wife
not to cut his tail with a carving knife
whilst the other two cry for their life
and jump around as if in a trance
the poor, oh poor, three blind mice.
Three blind mice, three blind mice
now your tails are held by the farmer's wife
"See how I carved you with this knife!
Oh, wait, you can't, you three blind mice."
Pendle Witches Series
This image was published in a book called Pendle Witches in which a selection of her paintings was accompanied by a selection of Blake Morrison's poems.
The theme of man as predator, preying on innocent girls is reflected in the male body with the head of a fox or wolf. The expression on beast's face is sad, although he is forcefully staring at the audience.
The head, particularly the mouth, is monstrous enough to hurt the defenceless girl.
However, she does not seem afraid, much like in Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, she seems calm and curious, and is stroking the creature's face. It looks like she is trying to remove his head, as if she believes that it is a mask and not his true face.
In the background, there is a scarecrow with a witch's pointy hat on; this is possibly alluding to a witch being burnt at the stake, or to the story of the Wizard of Oz. It might also be alluding to beauty and the beast, in which fairy-tale a cursed man seen as a beast is restored by a beautiful girl who is not afraid or repulsed by his appearance.
My pretty, my pretty
run away from the big bad wolf
you don't know what he might want
to eat you up and eat you whole
and then toss you in the bin.
My pretty, my pretty
I know those eyes, full
of questions and curiosity
you seem so calm, so unafraid
do you know it or are you brave?
My pretty, my pretty
you rest your hand upon his face
not even I would want your little
dog, though he may be in the open
I would rather close his book.
My pretty, my pretty
but you want him as he wants you.
This painting was also taken from Pendle Witches.
In the background a semi-nude, elegant woman appears relaxed, as if in post-coital afterglow, or as if she has just gotten out of a relaxing bath.
On the bed, one girl lays on top of the other. The one on top seems to be sound asleep, despite the odd physical position she is in, whereas the one underneath seems captivatingly pretty with wide seductively glaring eyes.
Could the erotic image in the background be some sort of indication or symbolism for relationship between two girls?
They rest together
in the after-glow.
Their chests gentle
waves in the sea.
One is already
fast asleep in
the land of dreams.
Her dream almost
palpable, is of peace.
No, not that sort of peace
that we want on Earth.
To feel light as a
her back, lifting
the minimal hairs on it.
Her partner awaits,
eyes wide open,
for something yet to come.
Maybe sleep, maybe
that peace, which
asleep she has
found. But not
her partner, that
one has yet to find it.
fixated wide eyes
cannot hide her unrest.
Her lips, at least,
seem to be smiling.
Peter Pan series
Mermaid drowning Wendy
This painting is based on the children’s story, Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie.
Rego stated in a letter that the mermaid is also partially based on her own mother.
This image shows a mermaid drowning Wendy.
Here Wendy has no Peter Pan to save her, as his shape can be seen lying on the rock in the background.
Bright against the dark background, the mermaid seems even more terrorising as she drowns defenceless Wendy.
Unlike the common idea of beautiful seductive mermaids, this one is horrendous, and can scarcely be imagined seducing men into the water to drown them.
Her body is masculinised, through muscles.
Her facial expression shows pity as she looks down at Wendy. It is almost as if she cannot help herself, as if she is drowning Wendy against her own will.
She has two tails and her face looks deformed, thus she was born an aberration.
Despite mythological mermaids being portrayed as pretty and beautiful they are horrible beings, even in Peter Pan, thus perhaps this mermaid is reflecting on the outside how ugly they are inside.
She is also showing sorrow, perhaps she is an outcast trying to fit in.
"Oh, my, what is that?"
"Keep it away from me."
"I certainly cannot give it my breast,
what if it sucks my nipple off."
"I refuse to nurse it."
"I will not let it play with my children."
"I cannot teach it our culture.
With that face, how is it supposed
to seduce men, to entice them,
to lead them into our seas?
Not even men would fall
for it. They may be idiots
but they still have standards.
Its muscles, and sunken, and
distorted and inmermaid face
will never do for our world."
"Ha, ha, ha! You want us
to be its friends? Its dry
hair, its small eyes and
mouth, its giant nose and
ears. Not to mention the fact
that it has TWO TAILS!
It will never fit into our group."
"How much will you pay me?
I shall only mate with it if I
receive constant fish in my
plate and have as many
pearls as a king. Its chest
is wider than mine, and its
breast smaller than my
father's. It will never do."
"Peter said it is the cross between
a shark and a human, whilst
they rubbed against Nessie."
"Oh, wow, Peter, a mermaid!
She is so beautiful!
May I please see her up close?"
Inmermaid: Although it is not a real word, I have used this as a play on the word ‘inhuman’.
Wendy and the lost boys
This painting, also based on Peter Pan, is fairly simple and enchanting.
Wendy, as a maternal figure, portrayed as a nanny, seems to be holding one of the boys' feet, whilst the other three naked boys gather around her waiting for their turn to receive some affection.
It portrays the purity of children, walking around naked.
The naked older boy in background, who seems to be playing a wind instrument, might be Peter Pan, and even he seems peaceful and happy.
The painting has overall simple and bright colours, such as the blue sky, red ribbon on Wendy’s head, and the boy’s yellow top.
This painting is contrasting with her painting entitled Flying Children, in which there is also a bright blue sky, consuming the entire painting, seemingly positive and cheerful, but a small dark blue figure on the left confronted with a bird with threatening wings is a hint of something negative. In this painting, however, nothing seems to indicate possible harm in the beautiful tropical setting.
Tugging at his mother's dress
he does not even know who
she once was to the lost boys.
He does not even know
where she once lived
adventures, more exciting
than anything he could ever
think of. He cannot even
imagine the things she has seen.
A boy who taught her how to fly.
a star that shone so bright
it guided her to a land where she
would never have to grow up.
The child would never know
that he might have never been
born. She met fairies and
mermaids, fought pirates
and Indians, although the boy
would have preferred to hear
about cowboys. He thought
it fascinating that despite the
grey hairs, his mother still had
such a wide imagination, and
still fed the child in her, telling
him all these stories, and
playing all the characters.
When his father got home
and he would jump into his
arms, she would always end
her stories in the same way,
with a smile on her face
and staring into daddy's eyes:
"…and that's why your father
will always be my one true hero."
This image is also based on Peter Pan.
Wendy seems to be busy concentrated on doing a chore
She seems younger than she is in the book, although she appears to be tougher and more authoritative.
Wendy is stirring a bucket filled with blood (once again Rego is using a bucket to convey horror. However, this time she does not simply concentrate the gore on the bucket)
The painting is tinted with red blood.
It has a realistic look, with wind reflected by Wendy's flowing dress movement. This allows for the highlight of the pregnancy.
It is horrific, with red, symbolising blood and loss of innocence, contrasting with Wendy's white dress, a symbol of purity.
Cruelty and suffering are portrayed by the bucket, filled with blood, and the foetuses in the windows looking at the scene.
Rego is possibly using irony, as red roses, usually a symbol of love, cover the house where the foetuses are.
Rego claims that this was, in a way, the fore bearer of the abortion series.
Round and round and round
it goes, clockwise because
rumour has it, anti-clockwise
stirring makes life go backwards.
Round and round and round
it goes, anti-clockwise because
rumour has it, that way life goes
backwards. Back to when life
was easy. Back when Neverland
was safe. Back when Peter was still alive.
When Hook died- well, he returned
to Earth, so he may as well have died-
Peter lost his will to fight. Now that
Wendy had chosen to stay and live,
the boy of her life chose to give up.
So Wendy, alone, had to stay in
a land where boys, forever boys,
had no leader, ruled themselves.
One night, Tootles tip-toed into
her bedroom, and slid into her bed.
Taking off his bottom rags, he satisfied
his own pleasure then and there.
Although his genitals were the size
of his boyhood, it was still enough to
spill the blood of Wendy's dead innocence.
From that day forward Tootles, Nibs,
Slightly, Curly and the Twins would
go into Wendy's weak cave,
made of palm tree leaves, and
thrust their sorrows and frustrations
into Wendy's virginal body, and leave
them behind. It was not too long
before her tummy grew and it took
even less time for it to shrink back.
One day, whilst the boys were out
living their adventures and Wendy
was washing their clothes, in the river,
the water around her began to run red.
She ran home with a belly-ache
and asked her fairy what she should do.
With a black bucket by her side, Wendy
lay on the floor, contorted with pain,
opened her legs wide, and tried to
free herself from the agony. Her fairy
was by the side of her head, wiping the
beads of sweat from her forehead and
her tears from her eyes and cheeks,
with a doll's handkerchief. Wendy
did not scream. And when the boys
got home, and asked Where had her
massive tummy gone? She simply
shrugged and said The stork must
have come in the night and taken
it to join Peter. What fun they must be having.
The Children's Crusade series
In this painting, flames can be observed consuming a child tied to a wooden wheel.
A wild boar on fire walks next to the old woman, which might symbolise sacrifice, as in The Maids.
A girl of empty eyes watches an older woman who seems to be addressing an invisible someone, perhaps God.
The image reflects the effects of religious hysteria.
According to Rego, these elements were taken from a medieval book about tortures.
She also explained that there was a sexual element, in the acknowledgement of the girl and woman's genital organs thanks to the folds of their dresses.
Religious significance is contrasted with the cleavage of the older woman, highlighted by her low cut dress.
There is an overall symbolism of womanhood- V shape- the old woman's red (significant colour in womanhood) dress, over the area of her genital organs; the tree branches; the girl's dress, over the area of her genital organs; the design of old woman's low cut top and neck.
Oh, dear Lord, that my back should burn
in such an infernal flame, that my dark,
soft fur should turn to dust and fall
on the earth beside by hooves.
Oh, dear Lord of the black beauties,
like me, that I should perish next
to this creature, by you forsaken,
I shall no longer be welcome into
your kingdom. This sample of such
an abhorrent species. With so much
evil within them. Why was I to be your
sacrifice? Was I not worthy of your kingdom
Oh, great lion, who art in the paradisiacal
fields, how have I sinned? I have fought
in thy name, and for my fellow animals.
I have loved my neighbour, and
especially his mate. I have punished
all those who were not your followers.
I have slaughtered only to feed, and
killed only for survival, and sacrificed
others only to prove my untimely
devotion to you. I have been your blindly
faithful servant until the end. Why
do you punish me so? With such a
slow agonising death? I have
procreated, carried on my species,
and taught them all your ways.
They shall grow leading the same
life as I have. I cannot find a reason
for this cruel punishment. I have
shown females their proper place,
told them how superior males are.
Just as you have taught us males
how important we are, to hunt, to
procreate, to educate the young ones,
and how females must help us
carry on the various species you
created and look after our offspring.
Oh, dear Lord, I do not deserve such suffering.
I have never sinned.
According to Rego this painting shows a girl who has been travelling for a long time and during her travels she had a baby, but hung him so that she could go on with the other crusaders.
In the background we see what looks like a castle and a black dog playing on top of a massive dog. The latter seems to be tired but smiling.
It is horrific, due to the hanged baby, which could be said to be appeased by the fact that it is facing other way.
The girl seems pensive, though not disturbed by the thought of her dead baby. If possible her lips might even be smiling; her eyes however, seem saddened.
The tree leaves above her resemble fire, approaching her, which could be seen as being about to consume her, possibly the fires of hell.
The walk had been long and the extra weight
did not help. We stopped, to rest, near an enclosed
forest. My large rags could no longer conceal
my condition. One day, when the wild wind forced
my clothes to stick to my body, wet with exhausted
sweat, the master approached me. I lowered my head,
and although I could only see his boots encrusted with dirt,
I felt his eyes on me, as if trying to penetrate through
the top of my head, into my skull. None of us had ever
dared to face him, so we did not know what colour his eyes
were. Until then I had imagined them empty, just two black
holes. But now I imagined them two perfectly round
hypnotising dark circles. “You better not have told anyone.” –
He grunted. I nodded. “Good.” I imagined his lips
curving into a half smile, if you could call it that.
Suddenly a sharp pain took over my body. He
walked away and sent his wife. The woman, thrice
my age, helped me into the woods, and between
the trees by body expelled a dirty, bloody, unholy
thing, as it would a virus. Holding the cord
connecting the cub to me, the master’s wife
surrounded the babe’s neck with it and pulled
tightly on both sides. Once the kid was blue,
she gave me her bread knife, and I cut the cord. With
her dress she wiped my face and gave me clean
rags to wear. Then she retrieved the knife and began to chop
the dead creature into pieces, picked up the tiny
feet, the tiny legs, the tiny hands, the tiny arms,
the tiny stomach, the tiny chest, and the tiny head,
and threw each piece into all the bushes she could find.
Walking away, I glanced back to see a dog chomping
the remains of my offspring. When we emerged among
the crusade the master announced it was time to go on.
This painting shows a darker side of love, aggressive and consuming.
A typical grandmother's house is portrayed, with sewing machine on the table in background.
The image is uncomfortable, as the child looks too old to be breastfed and woman is too old to breastfeed.
It might be eroticising not simply breastfeeding, but the relationship between grandmother and grandchild.
It might even be interpreted as a comment on child abuse, if the grandmother figure is forcing the girl to suck her nipple
There is a figure in background, on the floor, which could be a doll. If so, it does seem as though the place is occupied by a child, or it might simply be infantilising the grown girl.
Don’t forget your coat.
Don’t forget your hat.
Don’t forget your shoes.
Don’t forget your bag.
Did you have your breakfast?
Do you have your lunch? Snack? Dinner?
Don’t forget your scarf, you
know the weather has gone colder.
Let me comb your hair,
yellow as the sunshine.
Let me put your dress on you,
a dress that once was mine.
Let me feel your skin, soft
and radiant, just as my own
used to be, when I was your
age. My, how you have grown!
Let me run my fingers through
your body, as I help you bathe.
If I only had again your age,
that’s the most I crave.
Come help me now, I
have to sleep, but can’t get
into bed alone. Come help me
now, and don’t be scared, let
me hold your hand.
You can hold my hand,
and I’ll lie next to you,
until you fall asleep. But
don’t squeeze my body
quite so tight. I can’t breathe.
I’m sorry my dear,
I just love you so much
It’s hard to let you go.
Almost as hard as it was
to lose my youth,
so many years ago.
I understand, granny
you miss your youth,
but don’t take it out on me.
kissing my lips, holding my
hips, hugging me, grabbing
my skin so tightly won’t
bring it back, don’t you see?