Description: pastel on paper mounted on aluminium Executed in 2002.
Dimensions: 150 by 90cm.
59 by 35 1/2 in.
Date: B. 1935
Exhibited: London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Paula Rego: Jane Eyre and other stories, 2003, no. 1, illustrated in colour
Provenance: Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Notes: Rego's art concentrates on the experiences of women and their relationships to others, drawing inspiration and images from books, films, legends and fairytales. In a career spanning five decades she has depicted a staggering range of subjects from Peter Pan to Mary Magdalene, manifested through her distinct, impassioned style - a by-product of her lonely upbringing in which she turned to the companionship of drawing as a means of expressing her moods and silent observations. Rego's natural mastery of composition allows for the liberal flow of imagination to take over, her figures becoming increasingly cartoon-like, placing greater emphasis on her subjects' actions and expressions. Although she has never cared for abstraction, Rego does believe that the viewer should have to work whether to unravel a hidden meaning, or to discern the truth behind a bewildering array of narrative and intimate details. "Ambiguity structures her painting, and while she obligingly begins stories for us, setting out scenarios and inventing or presenting characters, it remains always up to us to finish them off as we think best." (Fiona Bradley, Paula Rego, London 2002, p. 7) Rego looks upon her work as an open text, a melange of imagery and forms that despite each work's particular emphasis is open to fresh interpretations.
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The Sweeper is from her series of recent work exploring one of the great literary masterpieces: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Charlotte Brontë and Paula Rego share an imaginative passion that removes the veil between fact and fantasy. Through subjective distortions of scale, existentialist expressiveness of gesture and stark chiaroscuro, Rego reproduces the psychological drama of the classic novel. Recreating its mood and emphasis through her tactile shadows and kinetic line, importantly Rego's images do not provide literal reproductions of Brontë's characters, but retain an ethereal, dreamlike quality that delves deep into the artist's inner being. In the artist's dreamland of Rego's work, the peculiar and the elfish twist and turn with a rebellious vitality, for the same reasons that Jane Eyre's did. "Rego has explored, in a myriad of different sequences of pictures, the conditions of her own upbringing in Portugal, her formation as a girl and a woman, and the oscillation between stifling social expectations and liberating female stratagems. The scenes Paula Rego summons up dramatise the limits on female expectation imposed on Rego in her youth." (Marina Warner, "An Artist's Dream World", in: Tate Magazine, Issue 8, GET REST OF DETAILS)
In The Sweeper, Rego responds to Brontë's legendary tale of mythical aura, translating the novel's hierarchical character into an innovative, visual form. The lone female cleaner is here captured in a moment of rest, gazing upwards and out of the picture beyond the dark confines of her bare surroundings. We cannot see what holds her attention, but the subject's dreamy expression and relaxed pose provide a moment of escape in which her surroundings are in opposition with her optimistic mental state. This dynamic tension is further enhanced by the bright yellow drapery framing her upper body that rises upwards out of the picture, dramatically contrasting with the dark tones of the oppressive floor and walls. The threatening aura of the girl's surroundings - from which she has momentarily escaped - are symbolised by the snarling tiger skin that lies perilously close beneath her. With her decorative, pink dress, the resting sweeper takes on broader significance beyond her environment, becoming a stereotype for female elegance and beauty - burdens imposed by a male-orientated, image-obsessed society - trapped by a world in which she does not belong.