|Paula Rego, The Cadet and his Sister [O cadete e a irmã], 1988.|
Acrílico em papel sobre tela, 213.4x213.4
The Cadet and his Sister aborda o tema da despedida, mostrando um cadete vestido com o uniforme do Colégio Militar, de partida para o combate, que se despede da irmã enquanto ela se ajoelha e ata os sapatos.
O tema da despedida remete para um importante acontecimento na vida pessoal da pintora portuguesa, porque, em 1988, Victor Willing, marido de Paula Rego, faleceu vítima de esclerose múltipla.
Nesse mesmo ano são de assinalar obras como A Partida, A Família e Dança.
|Paula Rego. The bullfighter's Godmother, 1990-91.|
Acrylic on paper on canvas, 122 x 152.4 cm.
[…] In an interview with John Tusa, Paula Rego explains that 'painting something about Vic' (Victor Willing, her husband) was the motivation behind the Girl and Dog series. Asked whether the paintings had a reference to his illness and death from multiple sclerosis in 1988, she replied: 'Yes. It was so embarrassing because it's such a personal thing. You can't do it directly, you have to find a way around it' (Tusa, 2001, 10). This statement, illuminated by a later remark in the same interview ('my work is about revenge, always, always'), brings us back in a neat circle to the impetus to do harm to those one loves most, quoted in the opening remarks to this book. Be that as it may, in Paula Rego, in the end, and to quote Griselda Pollock. 'biography can never be a substitute for history' (Pollock, 1999, 107), and what may begin as a motif rooted in personal experience is quickly amplified into a wider political concern, here that of a more disseminated gender enmity. The weakened dog, in need of nursing but in peril of being put down instead, may be generic man's but is clearly not woman's best friend. It becomes 'a way of saying the unsayable' (Greer, 1988, 33); a displaced object of transference and the target of an aggression whose modus operandi is the simulacrum of a variety of stereotypical female nurturing roles, maternal, Wifely, Sisterly or filial. Thus the acts of nursing, feeding and shaving are transmuted into preludes to murder. The same process would find a more literal translation in paintings later on in that decade, so that in retrospect, the dogs in the Girl and Dog series are only slightly enigmatic alter egos of a gallery of castrated monkeys (Wife Curs Off Red Monkey's Tail, figure 26), emasculated wolves (Two Girls and a Dog, plate 3) and, more blatantly, eviscerated canine protagonists (Amélia's Dream, plate 13). Together, they are the chorus line in a performance that ends in bloodshed closer to home, within the artist's own species and within everyone's symbolic family, in images such as The Bullfighter's Godmother (figure 30), The Cadet and His Sister (plate 9), The Family (plate 10) and The Policeman's Daughter (figure 32).
Throughout her painting career Paula Rego has returned with some insistence to the issue of cross-dressing, drag or disguises of various natures: the men in women's clothing in The Maids (plate 1), The Company of Women (figure 34), and Mother (plate 12), or the female figure in soldier's fatigues in The Interrogator's Garden (figure 10).2
And While in The Maids the supposedly female murder victim is replaced by a man, in the Girl and Dog series, painted between 1986 and 1987, the man in his turn is substituted by a dog. Paula Rego has stated in the past that in her view dogs are noble, vital and vigorous Creatures, and that to reach their status is fortunate (interview with Judith Collins, 1997, 125). The caveat to this statement, typically devious on the part of this artist, is that she was referring to a series of paintings called Dog Women (Dog Woman, figure 11), painted much later, in 1994.
In these works, indeed, the Dog Women in question are vigorous, athletic, but also defiant, irreverent and even threatening. This is clearly not the case with the male dogs of the earlier Girl and Dog series (plates 2—8, figures 14—16, 19, 21—22), which, as Ruth Rosengarten has observed, are passive, docile, sickly or downright invalid (Rosengarten, 1997, 68). And elsewhere the artist
has commented that in her view the dog is the animal that most closely resembles man, in the same breath reminiscing with perilous frankness about a dog she owned as a child, which was very small, whom she didn't like very much and which 'had suicidal tendencies, and used to jump out of high windows' (Rodrigues da Silva, 1998, 9). Did he jump or Was he pushed?
In this earlier Girl and Dog series, the dog cast as the avatar of the man, whose best friend traditionally he is, is clearly imperilled at the hands of a series of perfidious little girls, who variously handle and manhandle (or womanhandle) it, pin it down, feed it, shave it and taunt it, sexually or otherwise. The idealised Portuguese woman of the Salazarista vision may have been the selfless wife and mother, but these little girls, the mothers of future Rego women, whose viciousness to dogs (Amélia's Dream, plate 13) and men alike (The Family, plate 10) leaves little to the imagination, are the preoccupying antithesis of that ideal.
The dog is proverbially associated with faithful obedience to its master, a trait which may be carried to abject lengths. In traditional iconography this animal, ironically in view of the gender antagonism explicit in the Rego pictures, is often the symbol of a good marriage (Becker, 1994, 84-5). In portraiture, for example, if sitting at the feet of a woman, or in her lap, it signifies marital fidelity, or in the case of a widow, faithfulness to her husband's memory (Hall, 105). If Paula Rego is drawing upon these allusions, however, one is tempted to her gesture as ironic, When deployed, as it is here, in a series of paintings where the nurturing/wifely/maternal roles contain a level of ambiguity that easily translates into murderous intent. […]
“A Dog´s life” in Paula Rego’s Map of Memory: National and Sexual Politics, Maria Manuel Lisboa. UK, Aldershot and USA, Burlington: Ashgate (2003).