Paula Rego’s new series of works, which have just gone on exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art, explore the tales of Portuguese novelist, Alexandre Herculano – harking to Rego’s roots and creating an opportunity for her to explore the dark and twisted. The six large pastels are inspired by the story of The Goat Footed Lady, who is subtly depicted in each work with just a hoof peeking from under her full skirts.
Rego’s women often have animalistic qualities, such as in her Dog Women series, in which her sturdy women crouch on the ground and howl to the moon. Critics have interpreted this as a symbol of female strength and resilience, which blocks the objectifying male gaze by diverging from traditional representations of femininity. Dogs have obvious allusions to savagery and strength, yet the goat seemingly does not strike such a clear chord with feminist ideology: a domesticated animal of sacrifice?
However, typically in mythical narrative, the goat has a varied significance, epitomising male virility and creative energy, and at the same time femininity and abundance. The inter-changeability of the goat, from a symbol of masculinity to femininity, is perhaps Rego’s attempt escape gender pigeonholing.
However, the constant symbol associated with both the male and female goat is fertility, used here as a metaphor for her creativity and her art. At 77, Rego’s focus is not one of gender discourse, but rather an exploration of her career as an artist. These are perhaps Rego’s most complex works yet, in both narrative and composition, often verging on the surreal or dream-like. Whilst Rego’s works invite us to question and interpret the complex narrative structures, her skill as a draughtswoman can be enjoyed on a purely visual level, a trait that is all too absent from so much art produced today.
‘Oil’ by Edward Burtynsky is the inaugural exhibition at the newly re-furbished Photographer’s Gallery. Burtynsky’s large-format and high resolution photographs track three stages in the cycle of oil: Extraction and Refinement, Transportation and Motor Culture and The End of Oil. The photographs are of such fine grain, high resolution that they often play visual tricks and jump out of the frame like photo-realistic paintings. In the Extraction series huge cranes populate the Nevada desert like a herd of mechanical giraffes.
The immediate comparison to make is with contemporary photographers such as Andreas Gursky, who digitally manipulate images to enhance their political or social statements. Gursky uses digital repetition of his subject matter on a huge scale, resulting in the people and objects becoming abstract patterns, as seen in his photographs of Pyong Yang Communist parade where the mass of de-individualised acrobats create kaleidoscopic patterns mirroring the floral patterns on the wall behind them: they are Communist ‘wallflowers’ . Burtynsky on the other hand does not employ this method. While he may digitally enhance the colour and contrast in his photographs, he does not add or remove components: the images are true scenes. And this is the point.
It is difficult to actually believe that these images are ‘real’ and I found myself searching up-close for signs of manipulation. When the realization hits you that they are real - the political message hits you even harder. The vast scale of Oil production, stretching across vast deserts and transported on huge rigs, is generally hidden from everyday sight, either off-shore or in places that you would never visit. However, Burtynsky presents them to us with imposing presence, resulting in images of combined beauty and horror. The exhibition is not accompanied by a political narrative or propagandist statistics, instead the images do the talking. Whether affected by the sublime beauty of masterfully shot and romantically illuminated ShipBreaking that harks to the lost cities of Petra, or are angered by the more agenda-led Oil spill photographs, you will not leave indifferent.
Edward Burtynsky’s new series on Dryland Farming can now be seen at Flowers Gallery, Cork St.