Helena Almeida at the Drawing Room
One of Portugal’s leading artists, Helena Almeida began to develop a hybrid of drawing, painting and photography as her native country loosened itself from postwar dictatorship in the virtually bloodless Carnation Revolution of 1974, commemorated in the press and world’s eye by images of a smiling military with carnations tucked into gun barrels. Almeida became her own model in order to effectively control the illusionary, mise-en-scene of her photographic work.
This absorbing exhibition of works from the late ’70s to the present included a suite of six black-and-white photographs, Inhabited Drawing, 1977, 16 by 20 inches each. In the first photograph, Almeida holds a pen, apparently having drawn a long straight line across a blank field of drawing paper. The pen has disappeared by the second image, and Almeida appears to grasp the end of the line between thumb and index finger. In the images that follow, a thin horsehair that is the three-dimensional extension of the drawn line emerges from a small hole in the drawing paper at the end of the line. Rising from the paper, the horsehair curls around her thumb. Almeida begins to turn her hand toward the viewer, taking up the length of line as it emerges from the paper, and the drawn line shortens. In the fifth image, it further diminishes and finally, in the last, it disappears from the drawing paper entirely, while the horsehair curls behind the index finger and hangs down.
Four 20-by-29-inch photographs from 1979, Feel Me, speak with similar eloquence on the challenge of making art. Two hands in an attitude of prayer are bound together with twine. In sequence, the joined hands fail to reach an artist’s brush, scissors, a pencil and, finally, a knife. Almeida’s large photographs of the 1980s suggest how thoroughly identified she has become with the substance and the implications of her work, to the point of disappearing into it. In the dramatic, nearly 6-by-4-foot Studio of 1983, an enlarged Almeida seems to hold ordinary studio things-a cardboard box, swaths of paint and arabesques of line-against the expanse of illusionary space. In an almost 3-by-4-foot black-and-white photograph of 1999, Drawing, a forearm strikes a bold diagonal, but fails to reach a drawing pen. A deep, almost palpable shadow runs the length of the arm: the shadow is made of inky pigment. Almeida’s exercises in the collision of illusion and reality offer parables concerning the making of art, suggesting that when a drawing is sufficiently accomplished by whatever the means, it frees itself from its support, and emerges into the world of substantial things.
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