License: Creative Commons - Attribution Author: Pedro Ribeiro Simões
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Modern Collection, Lisbon, Portugal
Material: Mixed media on canvas
Collection: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Modern Collection
ABOUT THE WORK
During the 1960s, she linked mixed techniques of painting and collage to biting political messages to the Portuguese and Spanish dictatorships.
"Portrait of Grimau" evokes Julian Grimau, a member the Spanish Communist Party who was sentenced to death by Franco's dictatorship, thus becoming the protagonist of one of the tensest moments in contemporary Spanish political history, with international repercussions.
The creation of images and stories has always been a form of pronunciation in the work of Paula Rego. She systematically investigates the plastic possibilities of painting, with the figurative and narrative construction of a moment emerging from the bodies and actions of the characters portrayed. Above all, Rego has a way of understanding and reflecting upon the world, a personal and sensitive positioning in relation to the issues and events which, for different reasons, have stimulated or unsettled her.
While some of these thematic lines recur, the 1960s was a particularly fruitful period for the formation of a discourse through which a more politicised strand invested Rego’s work. The artist attributes such attention to her upbringing in contact with both Portuguese society and British daily life, where information circulated without the restrictions experienced in Portugal at the time, along with the type of education received within an especially interested family.
Incidentally, Paula Rego refers repeatedly to the presence of the father as a responsible and motivating figure. She created Salazar a vomit a Pátria [Salazar Vomiting the Homeland] in 1960 followed, five years later, by the Cães de Barcelona [Dogs of Barcelona], in which she takes account of the disturbing events occurring in Portugal and Spain. The painting Retrato de Grimau [Portrait of Grimau] was also set within this context and produced, similarly to the other works of this period, through a formally intense composition, disturbing due to its visceral quality and the firmness with which emotion is transformed, through drawing and collage, into an image. The artist expresses her position, seeking to find a voice, to resist impunity and disinformation, without being committed or moving away from the purposes of her pictorial research, giving a body to stories which organise the perceptible chaos of the world: "It's like a person, a story. The painting developed as the stories progressed. The painting drove the story; the story drove the painting. Until the end was reached. The last corner was filled in, the story finished", she would say in an interview years later.
In this painting, Julián Grimau, the protagonist of one of the tensest and turbulent moments in contemporary Spanish political history is portrayed.
His biography, in particularly the circumstances in which his life came to an end, would intersect with that of another key protagonist of the period, General Humberto Delgado, a military man born in 1906, assassinated at the Spanish border by the Portuguese political police in 1965 for seeking to overthrow Salazar's regime in the 1958 elections.
Like other works produced in these years, it is the aspect of dismemberment which is brought to the fore - exposed and recomposed. The figures are drawn, clipped, truncated, glued and painted again, mixing the gestures of the artist with other materials, such as sheets of newspaper.
There is a figurative and narrative concentration in the lower section of the piece, enhanced by more intense chromaticism. Nevertheless, the most enigmatic image is perhaps the dual, two-headed figure almost centring the composition. The date is suspended alongside, like a memorial sign in this palimpsest. It is not surprising that Grimau’s death shocked Paula Rego. Grimau had a police background and joined the Communist Party shortly after the start of the Civil War - the reason for which he was denounced and detained for interrogation in November 1962. Subjected to torture by the police, he was thrown out of a window, finishing in a coma with extremely severe injuries, while the regime sought to justify the act as an unsuccessful suicide attempt and issued a death sentence for the prisoner.
In an act of unusual dimensions, the international community united in protest against the decision, with personalities from various spheres of political and public life demanding clemency from Franco and his information minister, Manuel Fraga. Coverage of the event crossed the Spanish border, motivated above all by the effectiveness of the national and international political resistance movements. Despite this contestation, Julián Grimau was executed on the morning of 20 April 1963.
A “portuguesa de Camden Town”, como lhe chamava o poeta Alberto de Lacerda, vai estudar para Inglaterra aos 16 anos porque nas palavras do pai, Portugal «não é terra para mulheres».
Desmontar jogos de poder, denunciar o autoritarismo político, a hipocrisia, expor o sofrimento no amor e a sexualidade encapotada, exaltar o poder feminino, não menos violento, perante todas as agressões, são alguns dos princípios subjacentes a uma obra, que desde a primeira exposição em Lisboa (SNBA, 1965/66), até hoje, continua a suscitar tanto a admiração quanto o embaraço.
Considerada durante décadas como “artista marginal”, porque indiferente às artes conceptual e performativa dominantes na Inglaterra, obtém o reconhecimento do establisment artístico britânico quando, em 1990, aceita ser a primeira “artista associada” da National Gallery, em Londres.
Se tivesse ficado em Portugal possivelmente teria sido «uma bêbada profissional» afirmou numa entrevista a Marco Livingstone, comissário da retrospectiva realizada no Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2007. A ida para Inglaterra foi decisiva, de outra forma nunca poderia ter faltado às aulas da Slade School of Art para ir ao cinema ou conhecido Victor Willing (1928-1988), intelectual, pintor, marido cúmplice da sua obra, cuja morte lenta inspirou novas metáforas, trevas e sombra que apreciava comentar.
Em criança, na companhia do pai, Paula Rego sentia um prazer especial em ver as gravuras de Gustave Doré, publicadas no livro “O Inferno”, de Dante. Sem o menosprezo «snob das belas artes» relativo à ilustração, a sua pintura privilegia contar uma história, o suspense, ultrapassando a obra na qual se inspira, seja ela proveniente da literatura oral ou escrita, pictórica, musical ou cinematográfica.
Conseguir passar «da cabeça para a mão» a corrente torrencial de imagens, sem censura, é um objectivo constante, muito embora, desde a série a pastel “A mulher-cão” (1994) utilize com frequência modelos, sobretudo Lila Nunes, antiga enfermeira de Victor Willing.
O prazer físico de cortar e colar desenhos, modus operandi de finais dos anos 50 até ao início da década de 80 – gerando quadros abstractos e viscerais, numa clara inspiração em Jean Dubuffet, defensor da Arte Bruta – foi assimilado à pintura a pastel das últimas décadas.
Criadora de fábulas, Paula Rego desenvolve um trabalho prévio de metteur en scène. Em Londres, o atelier é um palco secreto, no qual contracenam «fantasmas», alguns deles nascidos de esculturas que a pintora constrói. Longe de Portugal, a pátria que os inspira, submetem-se. Aqui «eles não virão mordê-la no rabo», lembra Nicholas Willing, o filho cineasta. Como a pintura é uma forma de «magia poderosa», esses fantasmas correm somente para dentro de quem os teme.
Maio de 2010