Imbued with a vivid sense of motion and spatial depth, Pintura Habitada (Inhabited Painting) exemplifies Helena Almeida's unique formal and conceptual explorations of pictorial space and the presence of the artist within an artwork. Belonging to a celebrated series that has been included in major international exhibitions, most recently A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance at the Tate Modern earlier this year, Pintura Habitada is a black and white photograph of the artist herself, blurred with sudden movement, partially obscured behind a streak of vivid blue paint. Arm raised and face lifted, it is as if Almeida has just swiped the acrylic paint across the surface of the photograph from within. In this carefully constructed, complex composition, Almeida liberates colour from the canvas, conjuring depth from flatness and sparking stillness into action. Resisting the traditional logic of the medium, the paint exists as an act, and not just as a tool of representation.
Executed in 1976 during the height of the feminist movement, Pintura Habitada was conceived to test existing social and cultural boundaries as well as artistic ones. The dominant theme throughout Ameida's career has been her own body appearing in meticulously planned situations. In this respect it is in concert with the work of her contemporaries, such as Valie Export and Martha Rosler, who challenged the representation of the self in art using their own bodies. Although Almeida saw herself as a painter and all her work as paintings, the Portuguese artist found photography the perfect medium with which to question such social and artistic conventions. This work is characteristically transdisciplinary, combining performance, photography and painting, in the unique formal language that Almeida found best documented her investigations into physical and psychological emancipation.
Meticulously choreographed to create a complex visual experience, Almeida's work is as much about formal concerns - space, line, composition - as it is about the relationship between the artist and the creation of an image. Drawing attention to the presence of the artist in every artwork, Almeida's presence in this work shows her occupying the work itself, and yet simultaneously being subsumed by it. As she has said, 'I was my work. There was no distinction between the canvas, the dimension of the canvas, and me. There was no distinction between the inside or the outside. My inner self was my outer self and the my outer self was my inner self.'(H. Almeida, quoted in A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, exh. cat., London, Tate, 2013.)