Paula Rego is a painter, illustrator and printmaker who was has been described by the art critic Robert Hughes as the 'best painter of women's experience alive today'. Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935 and went to finishing school in England before attending the Slade School of Art, where she met her husband Victor Willing. Rego and Willing divided their time between Portugal and England until 1975, when they moved to England permanently following the 1974 'carnation revolution' in Portugal where Salazar's dictatorship was ousted by Maoist insurrectionists. Back in London, Rego taught at the Slade and was able to continue painting with the assistance of grants from the Gulbenkian Foundation.
Rego's first solo show was held in Lisbon in 1965 and was praised for its freedom of expression, although the catalogue was censored due to the overtly political nature of colleges such as Salazar Vomiting the Homeland (1960) and The Dogs of Barcelona (1965), which were openly critical of the Portuguese and Spanish dictatorships. Her hatred of political interference still surfaces in her work, as in her 2000 pastel series, The Interrogator's Garden, and her untitled series of pastels and etchings of solitary girls, some dressed in English schoolgirl uniforms, having backstreet abortions. The inspiration for the latter series came from a 1998 referendum in Portugal that failed to legalise abortion because of a low turnout. It is because of such work that Robert Hughes has admired Rego's 'political art coming out of deep individual experience, not ideological rantings'.
During the late 1970s she moved away from collage to drawing directly in acrylic on paper, using a graphic style indebted to the comic strips she has acknowledged as an influence. Her output included figurative pictures that were spontaneous narratives rather than illustrations to literary texts and featured characters that often took the form of animals for satirical effect, as in Pig's Secret (1984). Her interest in figurative painting dovetailed nicely with its renaissance during the 1980s and culminated in a retrospective of Rego's work at the Serpentine Gallery in London shortly after Willing's death in 1988.
Latterly Rego has used her family as the inspiration for her work. A 2000 series with elderly women reflects a time when Rego's sick mother came to live with her until her death in 2001 and the birth of her grandchildren has triggered a return to childhood stories, from etchings of English nursery rhymes to Peter Pan, Snow White, Pinocchio, Hans Christian Andersen and Red Riding Hood.