“We interpret the world through stories ... everybody makes in their own way sense of things, but it you have stories it helps.” (P. REGO, http:/www.marlboroughgallery.com/press_ releases/exhibitions/59/original/Rego_press_ release.pdf?1247692081)
With its technical acuity and foreboding atmosphere, Paula Rego’s Human Cargo (Transport) (2007) is a psychologically-charged work from her Human Cargo series. The artist depicts three characters huddled around an ambiguous figure imbued with human characteristics. Rego explains the women are seeking the energy radiating from an anthropomorphic tree, underscoring her ongoing interest in the magic of folklore. However, Rego’s figures are not fairy-tale fantasies, but rather forlorn and desperate victims consigned to a world of darkness. Inspired by the events publicised across British media, the series explores the sex trafficking epidemic that has surged since the 1990s.
Often dealing with themes relating to women’s rights, Rego has been described by critic Robert Hughes as ‘the best painter of the women’s experience alive’ (R. Hughes, quoted in C. Patterson, ‘Paula Rego’s Private World’, The Independent, 25 January 2013). Although her technique invokes the style of classical and academic drawings, her subject matter is strikingly contemporary. In Human Cargo (Transport), the artist depicts the suffering of these young victims with an acute handling of human expression that heightens the emotional resonance of the scene. Working from direct observation, Rego builds a narrative tableau composed of exploited women, played by her assistant Lila Nunes, and a cast of grotesque objects of the artist’s own invention. Rego renders this tragic scene on a grand scale, engrossing the viewer within the image. Throughout the series, she replaces her signature vibrant palette with stark tones of black and white, imbuing each work with a powerful, mythic aura. Human Cargo (Transport) demonstrates a sophisticated command of linear graphic modelling, ranging from dense cross-hatching to feathery pencil strokes. Draping half of her composition in a swathe of black wash, Rego creates a dramatic chiaroscuro that reinforces the sinister nature of her subject matter.