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Dancing Ostrich 
from Walt Disney's 
Fantasia, 1995.


Dancing Ostrich 
from Walt Disney's 
Fantasia, 1995.


Island of the Lights 
from Pinocchio, 1996.

The Blue Fairy 
Whispers to 
Pinocchio, 1996.

 Paula Rego. Photo 
by Jane Brown.

 Dancing Couple from 
Walt Disney's 
Fantasia, 1994-95

 Snow White and her 
Stepmother, 1995

paula rego:
new work 

at marlborough

by David Cohen
Last spring Paula Rego participated in 

"Spellbound: Art and Film," a group 

exhibition at London's Hayward Gallery 

marking the centenary of the movies. In a 

show dominated by young neo-conceptualists 

working mostly in photo-based media--things 

like Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho, a 

slow-motion playback of Hitchcock's 

legendary shower scene--Rego's figurative 

pastels were a forceful reminder that 

cinema does not discriminate on the basis 

of technique or approach when it wields its 

magic spells on the consciousness of 

artists. Rego's entry was her series of 

"Ostrich Women." As a girl growing up in 

Portugal during World War II she had been 

both mesmerized and terrorized by Disney 

films. A scene that especially stood out in 

her memory, and which coincidentally fitted 

her preoccupations at the time she was 

approached to show in "Spellbound," was the 

Dance of the Ostriches in Fantasia. Further 

works from this series were concurrently 

featured at the Saatchi Gallery. Some new 

pastels--most of her pastels are on paper 

mounted on aluminum, although some are on 

canvas--along with examples from the 

Saatchi Collection and one piece loaned 

from the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 

are now the subject of an exhibition at New 

York's Marlborough Gallery. This show, 

which continues Rego's "dialogue with 

Disney," as art historian Marcia Pointon 

calls it in her astute catalog essay, is 

the artist's first solo show in New York 

since 1985.

The scale of these pastels is remarkable: a 

typical piece is 59 x 59 inches. From a 

distance, the modeling and crosshatching is 

as vibrant and crystalline as the glowing 

color. Closer up, the graphically and 

chromatically bold marks begin to disengage 

from the muscle and tone they demarcate, to 

take on a formal life of their own. In this 

respect, Rego's technique could not be more 

radically removed from the transparency 

demanded by animation. Actually, there is 

nothing in the appearance of her images to 

pinpoint Disney as the source of 

inspiration, although the hallmarks of 

Rego's strident realism are bold, emphatic 

outlining and tight, fastidiously achieved 

fleshtones--which sounds like animation, 

even if it doesn't look like it. 

In her early work Rego went in for faux naif 

jumbles of cartoon-like figures that owed 

something to Dubuffet and outsider art, 

whereas, ironically, it is now that she is 

far more of a traditional, old masterly 

painter that Rego is dealing thematically 

with her childhood relationship with 

cartoons. A throwback to her earlier style 

is the grotesque, densely all-over drawing, 

Island of the Lights from Pinocchio (1996), 

selectively monochrome and colored-in, 

which recalls Goya with its fiercely 

caricatural asses and centaurs. (Goya is 

clearly invoked in Rego's etchings, 

examples of which are on view at 


Rego offers a disconcerting combination of 

a realism that is voyeuristic in its 

observational intensity and a sense of 

masquerade that challenges attitudes 

towards the female body and role playing--

Lucian Freud meets Cindy Sherman! The 

figures that cavort to the movements of 

Disney's idealized cartoon characters in 

Rego's giant pastels are stocky, Iberian, 

coarse-featured and by no means of Sleeping 

Beauty or Snow White tenderness and 

demeanor: the principal model looks to be a 

woman in her 40s. In working through her 

childhood memories of Disney within the 

praxis of her current preoccupations, 

rather than simply revisiting these classic 

movies with nostalgic adult eyes, Rego is 

able to produce mythic compositions that 

belie sentimentality. 

Actually, what she does is to reconstitute 

the ambiguous aspects of folklore which 

Disney tends to dilute or condense in his 

renderings. As for the transcriptions from 

the Dance of the Ostriches--the most 

ambitious images in this show--the artist 

was struck, in her researches, by the fact 

that Disney's draftsmen had real female 

dancers pose for the original sketches. 

Disney's mocking humor is thrown back at 

him by these real, heavy-limbed women 

crammed into improbably tight tutus and 

bulging bodices. The model's sense of 

awkwardness is accentuated by Rego's 

robust handling of pose and depth. When 

discomfort is shared in equal measure by 

model, artist and viewer alike, the effect 

can be sublime.

Paula Rego: New Work 

December 3, 1996 - January 4, 1997

Marlborough Gallery, Inc.

40 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019.

DAVID COHEN is a London-based art critic

who writes for Art in America, Sculpture 

Magazine and the British national press.