Hélio Melo | Almeida & Dale

Hélio Melo

Vila Antimari - Boca do Acre, 1926 Goiânia - Goiás, 2001

Hélio Melo was an artist, composer, musician, and writer born in the Amazonian state of Acre. Melo worked as a rubber tapper, a job in which he performed arduous tasks that involved everything from extracting to transporting the product from the rubber trees. He was also a barber, watchman and catraieiro [boatman], transporting people between the banks of the Acre River. Inspired by his surroundings, Melo became a self-taught writer, artist, composer, and musician. The uniqueness of Melo’s work lies in the portrayal of life experiences shared by rubber tapper families, reflecting the broader struggle of millions of exploited Brazilians subjected to centuries of neglect, convenience, or planned oppression by the state. In seemingly unassuming paintings, he captures the methodical destruction of the forest while advocating for alliances among its true guardians.

In his literary work, Melo narrated his experiences, combining personal imagery with peculiar aspects of Amazonian culture, such as legends, fantastic stories and real facts, narratives that he published in didactic booklets created with the aim of preserving the history of rubber in the region and Amazonian culture in general. Melo attended school until the third grade and, at the age of eight, began to draw and paint using ink and natural tints he prepared from pigments extracted from plants. He lived in the Floresta and Senápolis rubber communities throughout his childhood and youth, only leaving at the age of thirty-three.

The universe of the Amazon plays a central role in Melo’s production, which features numerous encoded references to myths, characters and customs learned during the years the artist lived and worked in the forest. In his drawings and paintings, he portrays the symbolism of the rubber tapper, marked by his learning from nature and from Indigenous peoples. He interprets daily life through the lenses of Amazonian imagination, highlighting the symbolic dimension of social and ecological conflicts in the region. Melo's work is also linked to his life and to facts experienced or witnessed by him.

In 2006, Hélio Melo's work was featured in a special room at the 27th Bienal Internacional de São Paulo. Recently, he was part of the Bienal das Amazônias, in Belém (2023); the group show Histórias Brasileiras, at Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand – MASP (2022), and his work was the theme of the solo show Hélio Melo, presented at Almeida & Dale in 2023. He has established himself as Acre's most prominent artist, and in his honor the Acre government created the Hélio Melo Theatre. His work is included in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris; Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo; MASP; Museu de Arte do Rio - MAR; Museu Acreano de Belas Artes, among others.

Untitled, 1993

ink and leaves’ extract on cardboard
11 ¼ x 16 inch [28,5 x 40,5 cm]

Um pedaço da mata, 1994

india ink and gouache on cardboard
10 x 13 ⅜ inch [25,5 x 34 cm]

Untitled, 1997

ink and leaves’ extract on cardboard
8 ⅛ x 10 ¾ inch [20,6 x 27,2 cm]
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