Les yeux de la mémoire: the paintings of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva 1930-1946
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This thesis examines the figurative work of Portuguese-born artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992) completed between 1930 and 1946, in the cities of Paris, Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. This thesis divests Vieira’s work of the persistent formalist framework from within which her artistic production has thus far been examined. Unlike any previous study, it explores the artist’s paintings through specific themes, subjects and forms of expression. By uncovering these narrative premises, we are able to re-assess the overall significance and contribution of Vieira’s pre-war work to her post-war oeuvre. Moreover, the interpretative framework that develops from this account re-draws Vieira’s position within the modernist canon; contrary to prevalently held views, her work ceases to be autonomous from its cultural field. The historical awareness embedded in the artist’s choice of subjects and themes captures the significance of the moment in history in which these paintings were completed. Yet, a contextual examination of Vieira's work in relation to the major streams of thought of the twentieth century reflects its elusive aesthetic nature. Each chapter examines specific themes and subjects. The first three chapters explore Vieira’s use of memory and the imagination through the expression of the child-like and the naïve, as ways to escape the mimesis of traditional painting. The introduction of these images alters the third person narrative quality of her work by bringing the artist’s perceptions to the forefront of her artistic production. The following three chapters explore Vieira’s subjective spatial quality, either through the use of linear formations of space, memory as projected on to urban landscapes, or simply by using her own image, in its numerous forms, as a spatial signifier. Moreover, in identifying Vieira’s choice of themes and forms of expression, this study observes the cross-roads of creativity that modernism inspired, disclosing the richness and plurality of sources involved in the production of painting, including literature, print-making and film.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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