Paula Rego’s art is a portal to a topsy-turvy universe where animals take on the roles of humans, embracing both their virtues and vices. In the “Letting Loose” exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery, we delve into this captivating realm, marked by chaotic compositions and a riot of colors. Rego’s extraordinary ability to convey intricate human behaviors through animal characters becomes evident in works like “Central Park,” “Corrida (Race),” and “The Musicians — Cat and Guinea Pig.” Let’s embark on a journey through these vivid and thought-provoking creations, and discover the underlying narrative of exuberance, upheaval, and societal shifts that characterized the 1980s.
The Menagerie Unleashed
Central Park – A Carnival of Characters
“Central Park” (1984) beckons us into a vibrant carnival of characters, with an orange hippo at the center of it all. The juxtaposition of this eccentric ensemble is striking – an orange, dog-like figure donning a top hat and Oxfords, casting disapproving glances, while a female figure in a red dress seems to be thrusting a knife into a bear’s heart as a duck offers it a drink. This visually chaotic yet compelling narrative is a hallmark of Rego’s work.
Exploring the Madness of the 1980s
Corrida (Race) – A Monochrome Madness
In “Corrida (Race)” (1983), Rego’s canvas comes alive with a mostly monochrome scene featuring humans riding atop various animals, a rat, rabbit, and monkey included. The absurdity of this situation mirrors the over-the-top entertainment and fashion of the 1980s. It’s a decade marked by exuberance, as captured in the image of a chicken leashed, a woman tugging rabbit ears, and a cat-like creature in shorts chomping at crickets. These images mirror the chaos and raw competition of the era, set against the backdrop of the Cold War’s final stages and the rise of global capitalism.
The Musicians — Cat and Guinea Pig” – A Topsy-Turvy Duet
In “The Musicians — Cat and Guinea Pig” (1981), we witness a more subdued yet equally topsy-turvy scene. A green cat playing a flute marches alongside a black and white guinea pig with a violin. The cat’s disheveled appearance and a hint of what seems like blood on its foot hint at an imminent eruption of chaos. It’s a scene where peace and discord hang in the balance, just as they do in Rego’s broader body of work.
Paula Rego’s animal-human allegories are a reflection of the 1980s, a decade characterized by excess and societal transformation. Through “Letting Loose,” viewers are invited to witness this chaotic world of anthropomorphic animals who mirror the tumultuous and exhilarating era of their creation. Rego’s masterful brushwork and her unique ability to capture the essence of the human condition through the lens of the animal kingdom provide a thought-provoking and immersive experience for art enthusiasts. In Rego’s world, peace and pandemonium coexist just a step away from each other, waiting to be unveiled in every stroke of her paintbrush.