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In this short essay, titled “Depoimento” [Testimony], Maria Helena Andrés describes her approach to her artistic practice and to abstraction, a style that arrived in Brazil during the São Paulo Biennials of the 1950s but opened up a “universal language, without borders.” In this context, she describes her own passage from figuration to abstraction as “spontaneous,” part of an interest in “simplification of the figure” and “purification of color.” She describes the role of music in both her compositions and meditative painting practice, during which she listened to Indian mantras, allowing the brush to follow the rhythm of the music. Andrés synthesizes her artistic and spiritual concerns as part of a larger project of self-realization: as a form of meditation, “abstract painting allowed me to delve into the unconscious world in search of the self.” The document also includes a chronology of Andrés’ life and work, and illustrations of four works representing distinct stylistic phases of her career.
This document is part of The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The Brazilian artist Maria Helena Andrés (b. 1922) contributed with this short artist’s statement to a retrospective exhibition of her career at the Palácio das Artes in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais – her birthplace and home. The exhibition, which encompassed 50 years (1944-94), speaks to the longevity of her career and its distinct phases. Situating her personal and artistic evolution within the context of abstraction’s arrival and development in Brazil, the essay’s title – “Testimony” – underscores the claim that her changing styles testify to a spiritual journey, representing coordinates on a path toward self-knowledge.
Though she has not achieved the same degree of fame as some of her contemporaries, Andrés played an important role in the development of Brazilian Constructive art in the mid-twentieth century. She was part of an early generation of artists to link Minas Gerais to the national avant-garde in the late 1940s, and the emergent principles of geometric abstraction to the first São Paulo Biennials of the 1950s. Trained under the artist Alberto da Veiga Guignard (1896-1962), Andrés’ methods emphasized sensitive and disciplined perception, rather than observation, of nature – a theme that resounds, 50 years later, in this essay. After spending a year at the Art Student’s League in New York, Andrés exhibited in Santa Fe, New York and Seattle, in Valparaíso and Santiago de Chile, and at the Galerie Valerie Schmidt in Paris. As evidenced in her biographical chronology, she participated in eight of the first ten São Paulo Biennials and in the survey exhibition Bienal Brasil Século XX (also 1994), among many others. The retrospective to which this short essay belongs was the second devoted to Maria Helena Andrés. The first, held at the Museu de Arte da Pampulha in Belo Horizonte, was in 1974. Andrés began teaching at the Escola Guignard in Belo Horizonte in 1958, and became director in 1963.
[For more on Maria Helena Andrés, see Cristina Ávila’s essay “Maria Helena Andrés: Luminosidade e poesia” (doc. no. 1293819) in the ICAA digital archive.
For complementary reading on artists from Minas Gerais, see “Pintura em Minas,” by Mário de Andrade (doc. no. 1110459); “Amilcar de Castro,” by Hélio Oiticica (doc. no. 1091536); “Da dissolução do objeto ao vanguardismo brasileiro,” by Mário Pedrosa (doc. no. 1110435); “Escultura, objeto e participação,” by Frederico Morais (doc. no. 1111085); “O futuro é construtivo,” by Amílcar de Castro (doc. no. 1111049); “Uma certa vertigem,” by Alberto Tassinari (doc. no. 1111429); “A respeito da obra de Mary Vieira” (doc. no. 1091605); “Imagens da imagem,” by Roberto Pontual (doc. no. 1110688); and “Indagações, extensão e limites do regionalism,” by Aracy Amaral (doc. no. 1126533).