Paula Rego

I’ve been looking at different ways of drawing and trying to get a feel for the intended audience and Rego certainly has something to say about dancers. Maybe her audience is the people who idealise the delicate images made by Degas; a reaction to that sense of prettiness. Her Dancing Ostriches are robust women with muscles, which maybe makes a statement about the image of dance being unrecognised for its athleticism and here she’s maybe over-emphasising the musculature of her dancers to make the point. Ballet is not an Olympic event but ice dance is, and the floor work of women athletes is essentially dance with back-flips (men do masculine stamping around + back-flips), so why not ballet?

Trying to copy some of her drawings serves two purposes, the first being about following Rego’s lines and getting a feel for her control of gesture, but the second is an insight into musculature without the use of live nude models. Her dancers are clothed and robust but their body shapes are very evident.


Sketches in black conte. Somehow these figures were too big for the page and perhaps that’s the nature of the medium, but it could also be my inability to map the image onto the space available. The top left was the first attempt, the head is missing and the left leg is way too short (I’ve drawn in pencil where I think it should be), but I’m quite pleased with the right leg. Bottom left is the top of the torso: the angle of her head is really tricky and I didn’t have room for the whole of the right arm but it gave me a bit more experience of Rego’s gestural marks. On the right is what is probably a clip from a larger piece but it brings those beautifully defined legs to the front and I’m quite pleased at the copy.

I find I have an interesting combination of current preferences in Rego, Klimt, and Henry Moore. Klimt a master of the flat, mosaiced, patterned and symbolic, Rego gutsy and rounded, and Moore (his sheep anyway) almost wire-frame models for 3D digital platforms.



Oil crayon. Unbalanced and anatomically unlikely! Left leg ends way outside any hip and the right leg is not a firm plant for balance. The sweep of the skirt up from behind and into the crook of her left arm looks more like a rather stiff blanket with a baby in it.






img_2467For this version, I tried using Moore’s wire frame approach and I think the legs are a little better placed. She does seem to be in motion though when in fact she is very firmly planted in position.









img_2469Nope. Trying to be reductive with such a complex figure that I haven’t come close to ‘getting’ quite predictably hasn’t worked!







For this version, I wanted to bring the image out of a dark background and to use some of Rego’s flesh tones. I blended charcoal into the surface then washed a light shape of the dancer with a wet brush. Once dry, I marked in the skin tones then added some very light lines to indicate the skirt of the dress. I think she’s finer of feature than Rego’s but the musculature seems to be there and the skirt is a bit more dress than baby blanket.






Paula Rego:

It’s hard to look at her work without trying to figure out where such material could come from; what life experiences could have triggered them. She was interested in folk lore and family was a key theme, along with transposing women into the centre stage normally occupied by men. The women are often acutely confrontational – physically and sexually – and not surprisingly some have brought psychoanalysis  (see to bear on her unconscious motivations. Unfortunately, psychoanalysis is about as reliable as informed speculation and in clinical practice it has been superseded by evidence based psychological therapies that reflect utterances rather than interpreting them. I would love a few sessions with this woman to see if I could begin to understand the drivers.

Theatrical ballerinas in Dancing Ostriches from Disney’s Fantasia(1995) are shown next to Degas’ iconic dancers. But Rego’s look more drained, if not desperate.


Flouting the male gaze, they upset archetypes.


Spotlit in the dimmed exhibition rooms, like on a stage, each painting seems to come out of a different nightmare. , accessed 12/03/19




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