The bold, distinctive style of Paula Rego’s paintings has acquired for her not only an ever-increasing critical reputation but also an unusually large and enthusiastic following. Her be-ribboned little-girl heroines and fairy-tale characters seem firmly rooted in childhood, yet the innocence of this art is darkened by the underlying themes of power, domination and rebellion, sexuality and gender, that run through her work.
Here Rego has turned to the nursery rhyme as a source for her imagery. It is a genre that perfectly complements her art; full of double meanings, rhymes are written from a child’s perspective but are open to adult interpretation. Twenty-six well-known nursery rhymes are accompanied by a series of etchings which she has executed spontaneously as a child might, drawing directly on the plate without preparatory planning. Following the traditions of earlier artists such as Beatrix Potter, she treats the fantastic realistically, dressing animals in human costume and using dream-like dislocations of scale. These are wonderfully comic and rich illustrations with a hint of the sinister, that turn classic nursery rhymes into colourful stories about folly and delusion, cruelty, convention and sex.