The art of Beatriz Milhazes

If the paintings can evoke the seasons, the works of Beatriz Milhazes evoke summer. His glorious depictions of plants and abstract shapes shimmer with the warmth of a sunny afternoon. Its colors range from fiery reds and azure blues to the dusty yellows of late August grass, dancing from shape to shape like light on a stained glass window. The overall effect is akin to that of Pop art, vibrant with energy.

Take his web 2020 Cebola Roxa (above), painted during lockdown and recently sold to benefit environmental charity ClientEarth. The goals of the organization are close to the heart of an artist whose palette reflects the wonders of the natural world. “Some painters tend to green their work in contact with nature, says Milhazes, and my studio is right next to the botanical garden.

She also notes the influence of her hometown, Rio de Janeiro, with its Baroque architecture and vibrant atmosphere. “It’s a place of stark contrasts between greens, blues and yellows,” she says. Avenue Brasil (below), painted in 2003 and 2004, captures the frenetic cocktail of traffic along the city’s main freeway in funky chromatic tones speckled with ink blots as black as motor oil.

Born in Rio in 1960, Milhazes grew up under Brazil’s repressive military dictatorship. In the early 1980s, she enrolled at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, where she came into contact with a liberal intelligentsia engaged in mobilizing mass protests against the country’s far-right government.

Milhazes was included in the 1984 landmark exhibition Como vai você, geração 80? (“How are you, generation of the 80s?”) with Luiz Zerbini, Leda Catunda, Daniel Senise and José Leonilson. With its exuberantly colored canvases, the exhibition heralded a return to the more austere Brazilian conceptualism of the 1970s.

In 1985, Milhazes traveled for the first time to Europe, where she saw for the first time in person paintings by Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian, artists who had already influenced her work.

In Bridget Riley’s meticulous Op Art paintings, Milhazes discovered the work of a fellow colorist, while Matisse’s cut-outs inspired his unusual practice of painting on sheets of plastic before transposing them onto canvas, paint side up. the bottom – a method that gives a saturated impression. as a finish. The technique, she says, “allows me to play with the composition”.

Upon the artist’s return to Brazil, she had her first personal exhibition, which coincided with the fall of the military junta and the beginning of a more liberal era. By the mid-1990s she was exhibiting internationally, with curators keen to promote her as one of the new Brazilian artists who sought to cannibalize European culture, much like their ancestors, the modernists Emiliano di Cavalcanti and Tarsila do Amaral. , had done so.

She once said that she felt like Paul Gauguin, but in reverse: “He came from Europe to the tropics to add important atmospheres and colors to his paintings. I came from the tropics to Europe to give my paintings more meaning, more structure, more interest.’

Early works such as the 1995 painting O Casamento (above) and Madame Caduvel (1996) evokes the city’s carnival – the swirls of sequins and flapping ostrich feathers carried by Rio’s dancers, and the thunderous rhythm of festival drums.

“I would say the Rio Carnival Parade is an event that motivates me to be an artist,” says Milhazes. “Its wild nature and its freedom are fascinating! I’m actually a conceptual carnivalesque.’

Milhazes’ art encompasses Brazil’s history and heritage, particularly the multiple cross-cultural currents found in the country’s popular art, jewelry, fabrics and music. Sparkling with the history of Brazilian popular music – Tropicália, bossa nova, samba – her work is gloriously cool, intimate and sophisticated, reminiscent of the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s before the military took over.

His canvases allude to Copacabana Beach: the sidewalk tiles designed by Roberto Burle Marx along its promenade and its vibrant atmosphere after dark. Her paintings, she says, are about “life in Rio, the walk along the beach…the swing…the atmosphere”.

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In 2003, Milhazes represented Brazil at the Venice Biennale with a dazzling collection of floral works. His painting Meu Limao fetched an auction price of $2.1 million in 2012, making it the most expensive work by a living Brazilian artist ever sold.

Today, Milhazes has a strong international following and has exhibited all over the world, and recently held his first-ever solo exhibition in China, at the Long Museum in Shanghai.

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