Morgan Meis in The Easel:
There’s a painting entitled Celestina’s House (2000-1). I count at least twenty-two figures in the painting. That’s a rough count. A few of these figures are sitting around a table, presumably eating a meal, though the only food on the table is a lobster and crab, maybe still alive. In front of the table, several figures nap awkwardly on pillows while, nearby, a tiny old woman sits on the floor, reaching up like a baby. Elsewhere, two women work, disconsolate, at a sewing machine, another woman falls down backward through the air, and a young fellow sits on a ladder with his back to us, as if he’s being punished. There is so much going on it is impossible to understand exactly what is going on. It is a scene, perhaps, showing us what would happen if the entire contents of many nights’ dreaming were smashed onto one canvas. The style is more or less realist, but not fastidiously so. We seem to be firmly in the realm of fantasy, memory, fable, and dream.
The artist is Paula Rego. Rego is originally from Portugal (b. 1935) but has lived much of her life in England. Her work has been celebrated in England and to some degree in her native Portugal, but is not as well known elsewhere. She exhibited with the so-called London Group in the 1960s, a group that included David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth, and Frank Auerbach. Recently, The Tate has mounted an exhibit billed as “the UK’s largest and most comprehensive retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to date.” Critical response to the show has been rapturous and widespread. At eighty-six years of age, Rego seems finally to be getting the recognition she deserves.