Helena Almeida Artist Review:

Helena Almeida (Drawing with Pigment) 1995-9

Born in Lisbon, Portugal, Helena Almeida has lived and worked there since 1934. Her work has spread out from there to Switzerland and France in 1978 and onwards, to Italy, Belgium and Scotland by 1989; all in solo exhibitions. Her art practice started as painting, a medium she studied in University, until she made “Inhabited Canvas”, (Almeida, 1976) a blank canvas that she wore walking down the street. It changed her entire style: she turned to photography as the medium to present her work, although this should be judged carefully to understand whether it is meant as “the documentation of the performance or the object itself?”(Oliveira, 2009) The same middle ground of careful understanding stands with Almeida herself, “she is at the same time work/object and author/embodied subject.”(Oliveira, 2009)

Helena Almeida’s “Drawing (with pigment)” drawn in a small series with charcoal or pastel and ink. Like most of her work, Almeida’s drawing depicts her own body, here specifically her hands as she draws, they are outlines of her physical movements and actions she undertakes in her studio. Almeida confessed a particular interest in her extremities as “We look at the body and see that it ends abruptly at the feet and hands. It finishes there. There’s nothing more- it’s like the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.” (XUNTA, 2000) The one particular image I prefer; is of both her hands on the top third of the page in simple, brief lines. The most complex area is the cloud of pastel in the open palm of one hand drawing a hair-thin line across to connect to her other hand holding the pen.

Where most of her works, if not all have some form of connection to her body: she claims “My work is my body, my body is my work.” (Helena Almeida, 2014) Her main media covers painting, photography and drawing although she persists with the idea of her body as “the canvas”, her ‘self –representation’ as a photograph of her wearing a canvas with her arms outstretched in the standard Christ position, looking down.(“Inhabited Canvas”)

Although she did turn to three dimensional sketching with “Horsehair threads”, which she refers to as “drawing outwards”, she brought together her main three media including this form of drawing, in the 1975 as she experimented from “design to cinema, from paintings to comics, from photography to sculpture, from architecture to performance.” (XUNTA, 2000)

Her performance art, such as “Inhabited Canvas”, are photographed and provided as evidence of action, like the artist Stuart Brisley, in his “ZL636595c” which was a performance piece where he sat alone without information from radio/television/books or human contact from 11AM 30th March 1972 until 7PM 15 April 1972. This now exists as solely a photographic piece; several photographs that depict his time in the room and a short review of the project by himself. In which he quotes the oxford dictionary of the two phrases “exist” and “survive”. (Tate, 2014)

Brisley focuses his work on the sense of self, and how we use it; he tested his ability to live without his identity. By removing people, his name, and any alternate information of an outside world, he removed any of his personality; as “We hold each other’s identity in trust”(Perry, 2014), In that we keep a part of each other’s personality and life in our perception of them, we give them life by what we know about them. Whereas Almeida is known for her lack of any personality in her work; providing material for the article in 2010 Out of the Shadows, which covers the “’Woman: The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s’”(Spence, 2010), particularly noted with “Work-32(Entrada 1)” with the lack of distinguishable gender characteristics in the hand peering around the door edge.

The lack of relationship between viewer and artist: who in turn has removed the gap between the artist and the work, by being the work, is jarring. Almeida focuses on the drawing aspect of her work; her appearing in it is coincidental at best.

The poet Mário de Sá-Carneiro wrote “I am not myself, I am not the other, I am something in between” (1915), an apt description of the luminal area of self study in drawing theory that Almeida seems to occupy. As although the artist appears in almost all of her work in front of the camera or on the canvas, the work is not auto-biographical as she is not herself in it.

It is Merleau-Ponty who wrote; “The outside and the inside are inseparable. The world is wholly inside and I am wholly outside myself” in his book, Phenomenology of Perception. (1962) Almeida meanwhile is attempting to put her physical body into her drawing: her only limits there are what choreography she can imagine between her abilities and the camera. Her ‘world’ is her drawing, her use of herself as a canvas, and her ‘self’ is kept hidden, despite her appearance on camera. Over the years, her presence has been her own work, “dressed in black, since the early 1970s” (Hansard Gallery, 2010) and the only intimate action we have of her, is her gentle aging.

Almeida has made a book of several drawings the ‘traditional way, one such is the “Drawing (with pigment)” which draws your eye to the only relatable part of the image by making it the human hands, what they are doing is only a secondary observation, the ‘plane’ behind them is questionable as to whether it is the paper she drawing on or the boundaries of the drawing is currently making, i.e. the drawing itself. There are 38 other drawing in the series with the same name: they are all of her hand s in varying poses as she draws, all done in ink. Although the use of pastel changes in each; one such use is the shadows of her hand, the paper, perhaps a media she is moulding, or its simply for creating her “drawing outwards” technique, other times the media in which she apparently working; holding blobs in her hands or having her hands coloured by it.

I chose this particular image because it was simple but eloquent and it covered the separation of who we are as artists and the work that we do, we are not all stereotypical erratic mad hatters. We can include ourselves in our work, whilst keeping distant as a doctor.


Almeida, H. Inhabited Canvas, [Photograph] Retrieved from http://www.hansardgallery.org.uk/event-detail/46-helena-almeida-inside-me/

Oliveira, F. (2009) Helena Almeida. Inside Me. Kettle’s Yard. Retrieved from http://www.fillesducalvaire.com/texts/Almeida_185-1.pdf

Galerie Les Filles Du Calvaire. (2014). Helena Almeida Bio. Retrieved from: http://www.fillesducalvaire.com/bios/bio%20Helena%20Almeida%202.pdf?1415480842

Helena Almeida (2000) Xunta [Board] Xunta De Portugal

Helena Almeida. (2014, April 16). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helena_Almeida

Sá-Carneiro, M. (1996) The Great Shadow (and other stories) (M. J. Costa, Trans.) Dedalus (Original work published 1915)

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1996) Phenomenology of Perception (Smith, C, Translation.) Gallimard (Original work published 1962)

Almeida, H. Inside Me (2010) Retrieved from http://www.hansardgallery.org.uk/event-detail/46-helena-almeida-inside-me/

Tate Gallery (2014) Art & Artists: Stuart Brisley. Retrieved from:http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/brisley-zl636595c-t03316

Spence, R. (2010, March 6/7) Out of the Shadows. Financial Times, P.12.

Perry, G. (Artist & Presenter) & Crombie, N. (Director) (2014) Episode 2 [Television series episode] Joe Evans(Producer)Who are you?

Almeida, H. Drawing with Pigment, [Photograph] Retrieved from http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/almeida-drawing-with-pigment-t13471


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