Paula Rego (b.1935) is a Portuguese artist who has lived permanently in Britain since 1976. In 1988 she had a major retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery and the following year was nominated for the Turner Prize. She has just completed a year in residence at London's National Gallery.
RF: When you were invited to become the first Associate Artist in Residence at the National Gallery, were there any stipulations over what you should do?
PR: They were trying out something new as much as I was, seeing what would happen. I didn't have to work in the gallery--in fact I could work in my studio and come in--but I thought it was very exciting and that I'd use this as a studio and come here every day. I liked the idea of an open studio but only once a month, every week would have interrupted too much.
RF: Did you enjoy people coming in and looking at your work?
PR: Some years ago I would have died if this had happened, but now I find it interesting.
RF: Tell me about the large paintings you are currently working on--I recognise the frog on the chain from the Ucello upstairs ...
PR: Yes, that's right. St Margaret with the dragon. Working with the collection I have been looking at the stories from the Golden Legend. Artists used that book to paint from. They would look up the saints' lives in it. Colin Wiggins from the Gallery's education department took me up to the Crivelli paintings. In one painting underneath the picture, there is a predella and in the predella it has St Jerome, St Sebastian, St Catherine, in each little picture something is happening. Colin told me if you look at that you can tell what Crivelli's garden looked like, because in each picture there is a different view of the same garden--well, what a wonderful idea! So I thought I'd do a huge garden with a perspective and in it put the saints from the Golden Legend.
I limited it to the women saints because otherwise there were too many, and I put them all in Crivelli's garden. But because it was too difficult to put some more melodramatic things in, some of the saints stories are in panels, as if they are Portuguese tile panels. You have the main characters, the big figures, which are in fact dressed statues, describing things from the lives of the saints. In one section the two figures are the visitation, Elizabeth and Mary. Next to them on the right on the panels is the life of the Virgin Mary, all in one picture as if it were drawn on tiles inside of...