Inspirations: Paula Rego

  • 7 September 2011

The artist describes how one exhibition inspired her to create an entirely new show...

The artist describes how one exhibition inspired her to create an entirely new show...

Pierre Klossowski, Diana and Actaeon, 1954 the artist c/o Marlborough Fine Art

Pierre Klossowski, Diana and Actaeon, 1954

It’s very rare that one is what’s called ‘inspired’. It’s happened to me very few times – I had it with Dubuffet many years ago – but I can say that I was truly inspired by the drawings of Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001), the older brother of Balthus, when I saw them at his Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in 2006. I’d seen his work before in reproduction, but I wasn’t expecting anything like this. I entered the room and it was extraordinary. I was surrounded by these big pictures in pencil, and as I walked around I was suddenly smitten. I felt immediately elated, surrounded by angels. I found them very elevating, and the awkwardness of the drawings helped me to look at them in a different way from, say, a drawing by Michelangelo or by Balthus himself.

I know Balthus’s work very well, but I prefer Klossowski’s, and feel a greater affinity with it. The drawings in his exhibition were odd, and seemed very unspontaneous and worked out quite carefully. I liked that very much. They were nudes, and the themes were often sado-erotic, hovering between submission and resistance. But I didn’t find them erotic, and I thought the mixture of submission and aggression quite normal. Klossowski’s muse was his wife, and he may have worked from life for the male figures too, as the hands are quite good, but I’m not sure. His drawings are very uncomfortable; they don’t flow, and everything is very sharp, including the elbows.

Paula Rego, Forest Muse, 2007

Paula Rego, Forest Muse, 2007

I went back and did my own large drawings. They were more knowing and less innocent than Klossowski’s, although not erotic. I did a series of drawings about the Muses, which show women of various kinds, some of them breaking their heads. One showed a Forest Muse. I drew them all from the life, and I even made the props myself – the puppets and the trees – in order to copy them. I produced quite a lot of drawings, all of them done in pencil, like Klossowski’s. He used colour in some of his drawings, but mine were more monochromatic – simply graphite and touches of Conté pencil. Colour makes a huge difference in a drawing, encouraging you to look at it in quite a different way.

About 20 of the drawings were shown in New York at my Human Cargo exhibition at Marlborough Chelsea in 2008, so you could say that Klossowski inspired me to create an entire large show. 

About Dame Paula Rego

Paula Rego Painter and printmaker Dame Paula Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935 and has spent most of her career in London, where she studied at the Slade School. She has won widespread acclaim for her work, which is rooted in reality but has a strong vein of fantasy. Her satiric wit and energetic line, sometimes applied to violent political subjects, reveal a gift for storytelling nourished by folk tales she heard as a child. In 1990 she was appointed the first Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London, and in 1992 she painted murals in the restaurant of the Gallery’s new Sainsbury Wing. In 2009 a museum dedicated to her work, the House of Stories, opened in the Portuguese town of Cascais.

Paula Rego has created this year’s Art Fund brushstroke, Pregnant One, you can buy a limited edition print on our shop website.