Pintura Habitada [Inhabited Painting]
The work of Helena Almeida (Lisbon, 1934) insists upon a kind of litany: my painting is my body, my work is my body. The desire for painting and drawing to become body, for the distance between body and work to be abolished, is evident. However, simultaneously one finds out little about her concrete body. The artist’s concrete and physical body is constantly diverted, disfigured, concealed by shapes that may prolong or spill it, move “in” and “out” of it, cover or reveal it, as happens with this blue curtain-like shape of painting, grabbed by the hands which first painted it.
For the artist, the blue is synonymous with space and energy: “It’s a mixture of cobalt blue and ultramarine blue. It’s the most energetic blue I could make and simultaneously associate with space. It couldn’t be red, green or yellow. It had to be a color that related to these two concepts: energy and space.”* Her work is like a permanent appearance of a woman’s image that transforms itself into painting or drawing, which is itself painting. Likewise, photography reveals itself as medium, for it enables (and motivates) the use of series, meta-narratives, of fleeting moments, some almost fictional, marking the different “times” of movement.
Flaubert’s prediction that photography would make painting obsolete, with the daguerreotype occupying its place, is completely disregarded in the work of Helena Almeida. The artist combines the techniques of creation (she manually fabricates her blue, mixing the colors; she makes drawing and collages) with those of reproduction (photography and video), contaminating the modernist purity of disciplinary separations. Her work showcases a permanent movement of covering and uncovering, of exposure and hiding, which is equally the movement between personal experience and universality that all artwork should aspire to.
Helena Almeida’s work communes with all the great artistic movements that marked the second half of the XXth century, from minimalism to conceptualism and from performance to photography. She does this not by imitation but in a way which is profoundly inventive and personal, for she has managed to create a vocabulary and to invent a world without detaching herself from her references. In fact, the use throughout the years not only of series but of the same concept-titles in her work confirms this. “I move in circles; the cycles return. The work is never finished, it must always be redone. What interests me is always the same: space, the house, the roof, the corner, the floor; then, the physical space of the canvas, but what I want to deal with is emotions. They’re methods for telling a story.”**
* Helena Almeida interviewed by Isabel Carlos, in Isabel Carlos and Barbara Vanderlinden, Helena Almeida, Milano: Electa, 1998, p. 52.
** Helena Almeida, op.cit., p. 58.
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