I visited this exhibition yesterday on the last day at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings. As indicated in the exhibition title it has paintings, drawings and sculptures based on The Boy Who Loved the Sea and other stories.
Rego has a strong illustrative style to her drawings and paintings which is no surprise when they are based on stories. However, I found that when the narrative was presented next to the image, as a viewer I had little place to go to find my own narrative or sub-narrative. As an example, the very first image I viewed was Get Out of Here You and Your Filth, 2013 (link to catalogue containing image on page 25 here) which shows an old women dressed in black (fairly victorian in style) wearing a cross pointing towards a man holding a dress/nightdress against himself. I read this as a comment on outdated attitudes towards LGTBQ issues, however, on reading the associated text it was actually depicting part of the story where the man is being told off for bringing back an inappropriate present. This was a prime example of one of the issues raised in Ways of Seeing by John Berger concerning context which I wrote about in a previous post. Once I had read the text next to this painting I found it very difficult not to read the text against all the paintings, somewhat limiting my enjoyment of the whole exhibition.
The images I found far more interesting in this exhibitions were the series of self-portraits Rego undertook in 2017 after suffering a fall – she shows the cut on her forehead and they have a Francis Bacon feel to them; and, her Depression series which have a real feeling of vulnerability. For this series she used Lila Names as her model and Lila is quoted as saying she ‘never felt she was really painting me. It is someone else she sees through me. Either herself or another person.’ These personal drawings were far more powerful for me than the paintings based on the stories.