As the cliché has it, a picture paints a thousand words. I’m not sure how often that’s actually true – if ever – but Paula Rego certainly gives it a good go. There is frequently a personal element to the stories she tells though for me the pleasure more often comes from setting the background aside and letting the image do the talking. Casting animals in the roles of her protagonists mean that Rego’s stories often make me smile. In this respect a particular favourite is Pregnant Rabbit Telling Her Parents. Actual rabbits of course must spend a good deal of time pregnant, so their parents would be unsurprised by the news the painting’s title character is breaking – indeed Rabbit has a somewhat brazen, what of it look about her – but actual rabbits would also have rabbits as parents. In the world of Paula Rego that would be far too easy.
The title character of Another Pregnant Rabbit looks at first glance like she may well be on a night out with friends but again she is the only rabbit in the picture and, looking more closely, one of those with her – or perhaps about to attack her – is carrying a knife. Like many of Rego’s pictures, this is a depiction of a cruel world where violence is never far from the surface. As well as depicting aspects of her own life, Rego often draws on folk tales and fairy stories, in which the narrative is often driven by harsh justice.
In Cabbage and Potato the oddness of Rego’s world extends to a cabbage busily doing her ironing next to a smiling potato whose nose seems to have been sliced off. What the story is here I can only imagine and quite why the two vegetables seem to have human bodies I really don’t know but I’m glad Rego’s world exists, though on balance I’m also relieved it only exists as paintings.