John Hansard Gallery
South West England

Helena Almeida’s presence through her work in the John Hansard gallery is a rare treat for this area. A ‘lens based artist’, she refuses to be catagorised but draws into her work elements of performance, photography and painting while, with an alchemic touch, produces work which results in all and somehow none of these.

What almost defiantly stands before us, are a series of framed, mainly monochrome artworks which reverberate with power, addressing the onlooker directly and stopping us in our tracks. With a collection spanning some 40 years, we see this Portuguese artist age before our eyes, the open direct gaze of her youth devouring (or being force fed) the vivid blue paint she painstakingly created for this purpose, the older artist, again alone in the artworks, but no longer, (perhaps with the niave confidence of youth now gone), interested in engaging eye contact with the viewer.

With her figure progressively covered in black, one work contains the image of the artist’s veined and aging legs, clad in classic black heels, somehow reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie, and loosley wrapped in a line of wire, curtailing movement and restricting escape. Escape from what though – the stark gallery space she inhabits through her work, or the unspoken gaze of her husband the photographer, rarely physically present but whose heavy gaze we sense, in some works more than others? Or could this sketchy, wiry line which now renders her immobile also be the one which once she played with so innocently in the early seventies work on display?

Behind me a young student commented on these earlier pieces with ‘I did that in my sketchbook in Foundation, but I didn’t think it special enough to consider exhibiting.’

You may well have done, but I’ll guess that back in 1977, the idea of ‘you’ had not yet been stumbled upon.

To quote the recently deceased J. D. Salinger ‘what really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author… was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.’ Well Helena, how about sending me your number , and while you’re at it lending me that one where you curl up in a black ball like a lump of coal with your hand sticking out. I’d like to live with that one for just a while.