I was sad to learn of the recent death of the artist Paula Rego. Last century I saw her work at the Whitworth Museum in Manchester, UK. That’s when I bought Nursery Rhymes. In March this year I went to the first major retrospective exhibition of her work in The Netherlands – at the Kunstmuseum here in The Hague. The museum shop had copies of Power Games.
I admire her as a person and an artist. As she told it ‘art was a way to work through fear and trauma, to soothe and comfort, as well as to erase, attack, scratch out and destroy.’
After a major refurbishment the Whitworth reopened in 2015. I would have liked very much to meet Paula Rego and talk with her about life and art. This imaginary meeting is set in the new café. The poem was published in my pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020).
Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester
Shading her eyes with a small black fan
she looks distressed and even out of place.
Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face.
To me she seems older now, frailer than
in the short winter days of that other year when
the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played
with black hen, spiders, women who prayed
for open roads, escape, a private den.
There was a boating lake once in the park.
We wait for panini, service is slow.
Café in the trees, I say, canopy.
Her earrings sparkle, her eyes are still dark.
It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito.
Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.