Paula Rego

Provenance

Marlborough Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Portugal
At Sotheby's, London, 9 Feb. 2006, lot 22
Private Collection

Exhibitions

1996, New York, Marlborough Gallery, Paula Rego: New Work, 3 Dec. 1996 - 4 Jan. 1997
2018, London, Tate Britain and Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts - Hungarian National Gallery, All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, 28 Feb. - 27 Aug. 2018 and 9 Oct. 2018 - 30 Jan. 2019, unnumbered
2020, London, Piano Nobile, Drawn to Paper: Degas to Rego, 24 June - 24 July 2020, cat. no. 17

Literature

Carlo Collodi et al., As Aventuras de Pinóquio, História de um Boneco, Cavalo de Ferro, 2004, pp. 161, 165, 168, 169 and 172-73 (col. illus.)
Elena Crippa et al., All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, Tate Publishing, 2018, p. 191 (col. illus.)
Drawn to Paper: Degas to Rego, exh. cat., Piano Nobile, 2020, pp. 38-39
Island of the Lights from Pinocchio draws together images from the cult Disney film Pinocchio (1940). The ‘Island of the Lights’ was originally called ‘Pleasure Island’ in the film and, before that, ‘Boobyland’ in the original children’s story by Carlo Collodi. The magical island is a place where unruly children are taken to be punished and, while there, they are transformed into donkeys. They are subsequently sold for slave labour, working in salt mines and the circus. Rego’s drawing focuses on the event of physical transformation, and the resulting inversion of the hierarchy between humans and animals.

Throughout her career, Rego’s art has been inspired by narrative. Rather than simply tell a story, however, her paintings portray events which are unclear and often emotionally tumultuous. In this work, borrowing from the filmmaker’s technical repertoire, Rego has spliced together a group of non-sequential filmic moments – many of them involving the interactions of a child and a donkey, mostly derived from Pinocchio. This single, richly composed image ranges across violence, childish glee and role reversal, and the overarching mood is terse and schizophrenic. The work’s illustrational style, underpinned by Rego’s fluent use of pen and ink, further contributes to the unsettling combination of a children’s story and black-hearted themes.

Rego grew up in Portugal with her grandmother after her father took a job as an electrical engineer in England, taking her mother with him. Her grandmother would take her to the cinema where Walt Disney was a recurring favourite, as she described in an interview in 2016.

I adored Disney. I went with my grandmother to the cinema whenever they were on. I liked Snow White too, and Dumbo. Fantasia was full of different stories. Watching Bambi, everybody cried, even the grownups.

Though Disney’s Pinocchio was the starting point for this work, following on from Rego’s paintings of dancers in 1995 based on the Dancing Ostriches from Fantasia, her field of reference is much wider than this. The imagery of a donkey-headed figure derives initially from the character of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is also telling that Rego admires the work of Goya, who also experimented with anthropomorphism in his series of Caprichos etchings (1799), for instance, in which owls, bats and goats embellish ambiguous scenes of suffering. Goya’s series concludes with a donkey-doctor murdering its patient.