Paula Rego, Strong Women
“This is another thing that is not in our culture, which I show in the picture of the girl with her legs up, Lila.”
Paula Rego, feminist, artist, storyteller died this week, leaving behind one of the most consistenly extraordinary and powerful bodies of work of the past 50 years. She painted women and women’s stories with visceral power, humour and sheer technical skill.
One of the most stunning exhibitions I’ve seen in recent years was a retrospective of Paula Rego’s work focused on her Abortion Series.
Rego was a painter of remarkable strength — strength of line and composition, strength of vision, strength of stroke. Her works exude a kind of monumental, sculptural quality. In a time of conceptual art, her work was bluntly illustrative.
This is a noon chart. I have no birth time.
As you know, I associate the Black Moon Lilith with abortion, so it is extraordinary to see that point so clearly marked in her chart. It is in partile opposition to her Venus-Mercury. There is the Lilith in dramatic Leo, opposite Venus (art herself) and Mercury, teller of tales, in socially-conscious Aquarius. In fact, this series on abortion was instrumental in changing the law in her native Portugal in 1998. Her etchings of the series were widely published.
She also has Ceres in conjunction with Pluto in Cancer, the sign of parenthood, making an inconjunct aspect to Venus-Mercury. Ceres is, of course, Demeter, a mother who loses her child and finds her again. Indeed, Pluto is the god who steals her child. Here we see them in cahoots, exploring a domestic, Cancerian, underworld. Cancer is also a sign of childhood, and it’s notable that Rego’s work has a childlike quality. In fact, some of her paintings look like they might be torn out of a strange, sinister children’s book. She was a storyteller, but the stories she told were often frightening and uncomfortable. She’d draw you in with the colours and lines and you’d find you were looking at something unsettling. Much of her work was uncanny. Ceres and Pluto here speak of a lost childhood retrieved. Cancer is the sign of memory, nostalgia. But Rego’s memories seem dark.
One element of her work is also her sense of humour. It’s a biting humour to be sure, but it’s there — and comedy is something you often see with that Aquarius-Cancer combination. If you’re not laughing, you’re not crying.
Rego is also a standard-bearer for late developers. Although she went to art school as a teenager, and was initially successful, she spent many years working as a mother and a carer for her husband who had MS. Art took second place. It was not until she was 47 that she had a break out exhibition. This was the year that Pluto squared his natal position from Libra, and made a conjunction to her Mars.
Despite her honour (Juno conjunct Sun) and recognition (Sun conjunct NN), she suffered in her private life, her stories came from experience (Chiron in Gemini trine NN-Sun). But this experience turned her into a master, transmuted into powerful, lasting art (Saturn-Mercury-Venus) that literally changed the rules (Uranus sextile Saturn).
She died this week on her third Saturn Return, her work on this plane complete.