The Talbot Rice Gallery's anniversary Paula Rego exhibition will be of particular interest to secondary students, writes Diana Hope
Edinburgh University's public Talbot Rice Gallery this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. It is well established as a dynamic centre of excellence, exhibiting contemporary Scottish and international artists and with a particular commitment to education and strong links to Edinburgh College of Art.
The centrepiece of its Edinburgh Festival exhibitions is a retrospective of prints by Paula Rego, who was born in Portugal in 1935 and is one of Britain's most celebrated contemporary artists.
She is a mesmerizing storyteller and a highly political artist, whose dark imagination is matched by profound artistic strength, creating what the writer Robert Hughes calls "a wholly authentic world" rich with myth, fairy tales and universal stories.
This exhibition is the first opportunity to see these prints as a whole body of work, including experiments made in the 1950s, the Nursery Rhymes and Peter Pan etchings and aquatints, the lithographs of Jane Eyre and the Moon Eggs etchings, exhibited here for the first time.
The emotional power of these works, combined with the familiarity of the subject matter, make them fertile ground for discussion and exploration, not least for senior pupils. The superb level of draughtsmanship and printmaking will certainly stimulate their imaginations.
The Talbot Rice Gallery has responded to this opportunity with a series of workshops for S4 to S6 pupils, funded jointly by the Edinburgh Art Festival and the city council. Groups of about 20 pupils will be offered a two-hour session in the gallery, led by the principal curator, Pat Fisher, the curator of education and development, Zoe Fothergill, and Lindsay Hamilton, of the education department. A tour of the exhibition, group discussion and analysis will be followed by a practical workshop.
"We hope to encourage them to choose one individual piece for discussion," explains Miss Fothergill, "and we are preparing a worksheet to help them with subject matter and language. We see this very much as a way to develop critical and analytical skills."
This is of particular importance as the work of Paula Rego is to be included, for the first time, in the new Higher syllabus.
"It is of utmost importance that pupils stand in front of the work, experiencing it at first hand," says Mrs Fisher.
"As the gallery of Edinburgh University, we have a generic approach to education, to share art and culture with the public," she says.
"We have undergraduates and post-graduates as part of that public, from Edinburgh College of Art as well, and have an invaluable chance to be part of the continuing lineage of education.
"We hope to eventually develop our resources to include primary schools, but for this very specific exhibition of narrative work by Paula Rego we are offering these workshops to develop critical thinking and analysis in secondary pupils. We have been working with Isobel Cameron of Balerno High art department as consultant to help us meet the targets of the Higher syllabus."
The second hour of the session will be a practical one, Miss Fothergill explains. "We will be fostering creative thinking about collaborative drawing and perhaps doing some mono printing, depending on numbers.
"Each school will be given an information pack, complete with suggestions for follow-up work, names of other relevant artists to research, laminated information sheets and a CD-Rom image bank of the exhibition."
This information pack is being produced specifically to be compatible with the syllabus of the art and design Higher course.
Rego a Go-Go workshops, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, August 22 to September 21, tel 0131 650 2211 www.trg.ed.ac.uk