Helena Almeida

Drawing (with pigment)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Helena Almeida 1934–2018
Original title
Desenho (com pigmento)
Ink and pastel on paper
Support: 294 × 208 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the 2011 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2012


This is one of thirty-eight drawings in Tate’s collection by Almeida, all of which are rendered in ink, pen and pigment on sheets of off-white A4 paper. Each sheet has four holes punched down one side, and a number of the sheets have drawings on both sides. The images consist of simple line drawings, overlaid with passages of dense pigment. Each depicts the artist’s body in whole or in part. Many detail her hands, often in the act of drawing. Other images show the artist’s legs, arms or torso, or show her performing an action: dragging an unidentifiable mass that is attached to her ankle by a rope, or pushing her prone body up from the floor.

Almeida is best known for large-scale photographs that document the artist’s mapping of her own body and her studio, such as Inhabited Canvas 1976 (Tate P80033). These works, many of which feature overpainting or other interventions, show the artist in various poses and gestures. For over forty years she has deliberately interrogated the boundaries of the various artistic disciplines she employs, including drawing, painting and photography. In several key early works she used a stretched canvas as an item of clothing, literally inhabiting a painting. In later works photographic images are partly occluded by washes of paint with which the photographic representation of the artist seems to be interacting.

Almeida has made drawings throughout her career, but she only began showing them as artworks in the mid-2000s. She was initially reticent to expose this aspect of her practice because she has always thought of drawing as a preliminary process in the creation of the photographic and video works for which she is better known. Her drawings are sketches outlining ideas for physical actions she will undertake and document in her studio. Curator and writer Delfim Sardo has described the role of drawing in Almeida’s practice as follows:

[In] the studio, Helena Almeida starts off by drawing; her thoughts are on drawing. At the drawing board, on those faceless, historyless A4 sheets, the artist places the first burst of a gesture, of the position or action which she will then test in the area of the studio where the first video recording is done, followed by the photo shoot. Thus, drawing acts as an inner methodology for the artist’s creative practice … They are notes, traces of gestures, actions and situations the artist will eventually create if she decides to do so.
(Delfim Sardo, ‘The Atlas: Helena Almeida and the Uses of Drawing’, in Galeria Filomena Soares 2006, unpaginated.)

These thirty-eight drawings made in 1995–9 relate specifically to Almeida’s later projects. The images of hands led to a series of photographic works with the title Drawing (Desenho) 1999 (artist’s collection, La Fábrica, Madrid, and 9Arte, Barcelona). Drawings in which the figure of the artist is seen lifting up the side of her skirt to reveal her legs, and close-ups of her lower body dressed in a skirt with one leg coquettishly posed against the other, relate to the photographic series Seduce (Seduzir) 2002 (private collection). The connection to these series of photographs is apparent, yet the drawings have a distinct quality that is their own. The emphasis on hands in many of the drawings is significant, as Almeida has professed a particular interest in the body’s extremities: ‘We look at the body and see that it ends abruptly at the feet and the hands. It finishes there. There’s nothing more – it’s like the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.’ (Quoted in Peggy Phelan, ‘Helena Almeida: The Interior of Us’, in Fundación Telefónica 2008, p.312.)

Further reading
Delfim Sardo, Caderno de Campo: Helena Almeida, exhibition catalogue, Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbon 2006, reproduced, unpaginated.
Isabel Carlos, Maria de Corral, Peggy Phelan and others, Helena Almeida: Tela Rosa Para Vestir, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Telefónica, Madrid 2008, pp.121–31, reproduced.

Rachel Taylor
October 2011

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