Paula Rego (1935 – 2022) came my way during my graduation from the Minerva Academy and I immediately felt a connection with her work. At the time, I was particularly taken with the ‘Dog Woman’ series, in which a woman almost literally becomes a dog with her typical dog-like postures.
Rego was moved by a (fictional) story about a woman who lives in a house surrounded by sand dunes, with only animals for company. Driven mad by loneliness and a persistent raging storm that sounds like the sound of screaming children to her ears, the woman goes down on all fours and devours the animals. This lurid tale of loneliness, frustration and violence prompted Rego to create ‘Dog Woman’.
I read that Rego regarded ‘Dog Woman’ as a helping spirit. For her, drawing and painting Dog Woman was like a shamanic act, as if she wanted to incant or conjure something with it. It is possible that the creation of this series also had something to do with her personal situation at the time. Rego started the series in a period when her husband was terminally ill, which suggests that she could use a helping spirit at that time. ‘Dog Woman’ possibly expressed her love for her husband, which was unconditional as a dog’s love can be.
Rego did not see being a ‘Dog Woman’ as oppressive, but rather as a strength, because being animalistic was good in her experience. Rego said that with her work she wanted to show the strength of women.
For her, ‘Dog Woman’ was mainly about physical sensation, eating, growling and all activities that are connected with sensory. Rego found the woman depicted as a dog very credible, and I share that opinion. I find ‘Dog Woman’ raw, horrifying, inappropriate and beautiful at the same time. Rego shows the woman shamelessly in her animal power.
She leaves behind an impressive oeuvre of paintings, drawings and etchings.
Geertje Geertsma, 2015, Final exam thesis ‘Wording’ (‘Becoming’).
Fiona Bradly, 2002, Paula Rego, Tate Publishing
René ten Bos 2008, The ingenious animal