Paula Rego – driven by dark and dangerous visions

Paula Rego, the Portuguese born painter now in her late eighties is getting rave reviews for her exhibition at the Tate in London.

  One says: “Her narratives have the darkest undercurrents of violence, eroticism, oppression, even incest, and at the same time the look of children’s fables and proverbs.”  Her “deeply ambiguous work goes straight for the subconscious in this mesmerising seven-decade retrospective.” “A stunning achievement.”

  She was born on 26 January 1935 in Lisbon with an anti-fascist father who went to London to work when she was one years old so she was handed over to her grandmother until her parents returned four years later. She was educated latterly in England, attended the Slade Art School and married British painter Victor Willing, who was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

  Her chart is challenging to put it mildly. An unaspected Aquarius Sun will give her an aloof, almost unresponsive quality where others are concerned, totally absorbed in her own world. She has a volatile, controlling and high-risk Cardinal T Square of Mars (Moon) in Libra opposition Uranus square Pluto – so will have been aware of anger, danger and domination from early on. Her Pluto is in a confident trine to Jupiter in Scorpio. A cool, emotionally detached, analytical Saturn in Aquarius is conjunct her Mercury Venus, square Jupiter and trine Mars.

  Not an easy personality, for sure, driven by demons. Her relationship with her husband, 15 January 1928, would have been complicated and stressed with his Capricorn Sun opposition her Pluto square her Uranus and Mars; and his Neptune opposing her Saturn.  But the relationship chart does have a mutually supportive composite Sun Jupiter sextile Mars so there would be positive sides to it. Though the composite Venus is conjunct Saturn opposition Pluto and square Uranus – so there would be considerable chafing against the chains that bound them together.  

16 thoughts on “Paula Rego – driven by dark and dangerous visions

  1. Marjorie, You might be right that I don’t understand the suffering your friend has gone through and continues to this day. But I do understand what it is to be sexually abused at a young age for years and to be emotionally tortured as well. And if that weren’t enough I was raped on the way to school as I was stupid, so stupid to accept a lift from a stranger because I was so late. For years I thought it was all my fault.

    In the intervening years I received a small amount of therapy; but I decided in the end that this was something I had to come to terms with myself. Mostly, anyone seeking help would have that in their medical records for the rest of their lives, and believe me nobody in those times would want that.

    I have never in my life wanted to be perceived as a victim. And the one saving grace was that I fell in love with a wonderfully kind and decent man. I won’t go into the horrors of developing Crohns Disease, but just to say that the only sort of advice I received was from a nurse who had the operation, and this was like the day before I had mine. I had spent the previous year bursting into tears everytime the consultant asked if I had given any thought to having the operation. I did sort of felt I was bullied into it. And the one time I asked if I would die without it, he didn’t answer.

    There were support groups for those that had the ileostomy. I went a couple of times, but the problems that people had were not really addressed. Although it was a great .place to try out the free samples that pharmaceutical companies pressed on the group.

    For me, most of my therapy was cobbled together. My therapy was to do with creating goals for myself. And it has worked it doesn’t have to be a big goal or even just one. For me it was the most positive thing that I could do.

    I am not the monster that you perceive, and was genuinely concerned about your friend. I have known a few people that the psychiatric profession have treated abominably. But that involved the use of ECT and God knows what else. Such things ruined so many lives.
    And while most therapists didn’t see any harm in long term dependency, there was one that said it was the duty of therapists to ensure that it didn’t become excessive and that therapy is supposed to progress the patient away from the safe zone that therapists offer in order to become independent and able to function. I am so sorry that I upset you, believe me when I say that I too have been quite upset myself!

    • Linda, I am sorry about your experiences and this is not an appropriate forum to discuss them. I agree the psychiatric profession is lacking badly in the area of care and understanding. But the fact that someone else managed to find and utilise the help of a decent therapist should not be a matter for criticism. It may be for some that short or medium therapy is enough to stabilise them. For others maintenance long-term therapy is what enables them to live productive lives. And all power to them.

  2. Marjorie, I have great sympathy for your friend. And I would never deny someone the right to seek therapy. But therapy can be a crutch and can foster dependency to such a level that I find unacceptable. And when it goes on for such a long time you do have to question it.

    I would wonder if the person was using therapy instead of forming friendships. I would also wonder about the ethics of the therapist in question. And like drugs, maybe therapy is just too addictive for some people.

    Therapy should be about helping people to help themselves, and yes I feel after a certain amount of time an end goal should be in sight. Otherwise the therapist is acting as an enabler not a therapist, as a friend and not a therapist, and as something much more sinister, that seeks control over all aspects of their patient’s life., a Svengali if you like.

    But I do recognise the good it can do, and I hope that someday your friend will be able have a life where her therapy comes from within. But until then I am glad that she is getting the help that she needs.

    • I’m sorry Linda but that is judgemental and crassly naive. I’ve no intention of breaching her confidence and turning everyone’s stomach by describing her childhood but to suggest she finds inner solace is a really bad joke. It’s a miracle she made it through at all. And others much the same. Don’t criticise what you don’t understand.

  3. Okay I am really trying to not be judgmental, but 40 years of therapy! I mean there has to be a time when you realise that therapy isn’t working, and it shouldn’t take 40 years!

    • yes.. I also thought of that, too!! 🙂
      Jungian therapy is more like an ongoing “discovery”…
      so maybe it was like her spiritual path?

      It certainly was that way for Carl Jung!!!

      who knows?

    • Linda, You misunderstand the nature of therapy – it isn’t like curing measles. With her chart and concomitant problems she would benefit from – and need – ongoing maintenance. No one ever gets to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to sorting out life issues and for some settling for long term support is the best they can do. I once knew a woman who had been in therapy for decades who came from an unimaginably horrific childhood. She said she had been sectioned twice, had multiple suicide attempts and the one thing that kept her afloat was her therapist/shrink. I had enormous respect for her courage and grit.

  4. I read that she was in Jungian therapy for 40 years….. that fascination for the underbelly, archetypes, etc. of fairy tales, of Disney.
    My Pluto in the 8th, Moon/Mars conjunction in Aries with the south node squished in between… etc. etc….
    I was totally obsessed with the darkest, bloodiest fairy tales I could find. I’d trot into the library every Saturday morning and just keep taking out a rotating number of these books.

    My GOD they soothed me!!! They made SENSE to me…. not in a logical way but just in the good versus evil interplay. I always knew I had the darkness.. but these stories also said I was good. This was hugely comforting and acted as a guide for my Soul.

    I have often wondered about the shift away from letting children read these kinds of stories. It all became so pink and fuzzy and soft and sweet and good. No balance of the Shadow offered!! Barney, for heaven’s sake!! My Goodness… who knows who I would have become!! I’ve seen some of the Haida myths portrayed in the old way…. terrifying masks, lunging and scary! But all presenting Life in the mythic journey that it is!!

    So thank heaven’s for Paula Rego. And Frida Kahlo.
    I so wish I could express what I know of these thoughts and emotions in art!!
    Ahhh…. it comes out in other ways!

    I DO know the Shadow places I could have gone and am grateful for the mentors along the way that encouraged me to go deep… and to stay tethered to integrity.

    Gosh, her work is amazing!
    I had not heard of her before!!!

    • Interesting comment. I was also drawn to the darkest tales as a child (3rd house Moon/Mars/Mercury/Neptune in Scorpio) and can vividly remember sitting in the classroom while our English teacher read us Perrault’s ‘Bluebeard’ which captured my dark imagination like nothing else! I quickly grew weary of Disney and needed the shadow side to be represented in a convincing way which was why I was far more attracted by the Eastern European, Czech animation which was very much part of my childhood viewing, which didn’t shy away from representing the absurd and the ambiguous nature of existence. Really, not all little girls appreciate the ghastly pink, sparkly, fluffiness that Society threatens to engulf them with, the minute they exit the womb.

      • aha!!! …. a fellow traveller! 🙂
        hence our draw to astrology, too, eh?

        My Mars is in the 3rd.. with S. Node/Moon right on IC…. opposite more stuff on the MC.

        The most intriguing thing is that my Sun is conjunct BOTH my parents Pluto!!
        When I first saw that, I wept for them.. truly.
        They were WW2 refugees trying to begin anew. Then what? Their first child’s Sun is right on their Shadow. Just being me was a constant trigger of this for them.

        Then? I had a cry for me.
        I had to just shut down as a child…. except for those amazing fairy tales!!
        They were my salvation for sure… and placed me on a path of healing both my pain, but also the multigenerational pain in my family. Well… I try.

        and I know we each have stories like this!
        These amazing people who put their Souls out for all of us to see in their art.

        • Ha, we are indeed fellow travellers. My mother’s Pluto squares my Sun at the same degree and my Scorpio stellium is on her South Node, so you can only imagine the subconscious power play going on between us! Very disturbing for a young child growing up and sensing those undercurrents but being unable to voice them, plus an incredibly angry older brother who is the focal point of the entire family due to behavioural and psychological problems which at the time no one knows how to diagnose. And a father (probably Asperger’s) who exists in his own world, who cannot protect you, who is in total denial, whose chart is all Water, no Air, just one planet in Earth and one in Fire. As a child I felt invisible, neglected and unseen. On reaching adulthood I fell into deep depression and bouts of self-harm.

          Hence the need for a rich imaginal world where the protagonist can face darkness and tension that can at least be acknowledged, given a name and integrated in some way. I think stories, books and drawing saved me.

  5. Many thanks, Marjorie. I was almost certain she would have an afflicted Moon/Mars connection somewhere, given that much of her work centres on female power within the domestic arena and the influence of her Portuguese childhood and indeed her Moon/Mars in Libra is the focal point of that Uranus/Pluto opposition, and in Cardinal too, emphasising the need to birth those planetary energies in some way.

    I first came across Paula Rego when she made a series of prints, based on well known nursery rhymes and, as a printmaker myself (I had studied printmaking as part of my qualification) I was immediately attracted by the dark undertones of her images and the incredible tension she creates between her young female characters and the Animal/Male hybrids they interact with. Only she can make these children’s rhymes take on a sinister or even shocking meaning, with sexual undertones. Pluto/Uranus in square to Moon/Mars again.

    Aligning with Libran Moon/Mars themes, her female protagonists aren’t delicate or fragile, they are stocky and powerful and more solid and present than their men, who often take on a passive role in the paintings and who are often smaller in size than the women (Playing with scale is an important part of Rego’s work). Sometimes the men are overpowered by their daughters as in ‘The Family’ (1988). Rego is also a campaigner for women’s abortion rights (Moon/Mars square Uranus) and has recently completed a series of paintings on the subject.

      • Yes, it’s interesting that she was close to her father which is something you tend to see in Sun in Libra women rather than Moon in Libra. In fact her father encouraged her to go to finishing school in England, telling her that Portugal was a ‘killer society for women’ as he put it. She was less close to her mother, but inherited her mother’s dexterity and creative skills. I thought Kate Kellaway’s review in the Guardian caught that Moon/Mars, Pluto, Uranus T-Square when she wrote: “In her hands, traditionally feminine crafts turn militant. Homemade dolls – potentially docile and lifeless – come defiantly alive. She knows the needle – and the brush – can be mightier than the sword.”

        The T-Square on Pluto in Rego’s chart is of interest to me personally, because my 5th harmonic chart also has a T-square on Pluto. I also have Moon/Mars in Scorpio and grew up in a domestic situation full of tension).

        • From the same article and regarding her relationship with Victor Willing her son, Nick Willing has made an film about his parents. “Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories” (2017) reveals a marriage of infidelities, unspoken jealousy and inextinguishable love.”

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