If paintings can evoke the seasons, Beatriz Milhazes’ works convey summer. Her magnificent depictions of plants and abstract forms shimmer in the heat of a sunny afternoon. Their colors range from fiery reds and azure to the dusty yellows of late August grass dancing like light across a stained glass window from shape to shape. The overall effect is similar to that of pop art, pulsing with energy.
Take your 2020 canvas Cebola Roxa (above), painted during lockdown and recently sold for the benefit of environmental organization ClientEarth. The organization’s goals are dear to an artist whose palette reflects the wonders of nature. “Certain painters have a tendency to green their work when in contact with nature,” says Milhazes, “and my studio is right next to the botanical gardens.”
She also notes the influence of her hometown of Rio de Janeiro, with its Baroque architecture and vibrant atmosphere. “It’s a place of stark contrasts between green, blue and yellow,” she says. Avenue Brazil (below), painted in 2003 and 2004, captures the frenetic cocktail of traffic along the city’s main street in funky hues dotted with ink blots as black as motor oil.
Milhazes was born in Rio in 1960 and grew up under Brazil’s repressive military dictatorship. In the early 1980s, she enrolled at the free Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, where she came into contact with a liberal intelligentsia that mobilized mass demonstrations against the country’s far-right government.
Milhazes was included in the landmark 1984 exhibition Como vai você, geração 80? (“How are you, 80s generation?”) with Luiz Zerbini, Leda Catunda, Daniel Senise and José Leonilson. With its exuberantly colored canvases, the show heralded a return to the painting of the more austere Brazilian Conceptualism of the 1970s.
In 1985, Milhazes traveled to Europe for the first time, where she first saw paintings by Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian in person, artists who were already influencing her work.
In Bridget Riley’s meticulous op art paintings, Milhazes discovered the work of another colourist, while Matisse’s croppings inspired her unusual practice of painting on sheets of plastic before transferring them to canvas, color side down – a method that produces a saturated, saturated print results. how done. The technique, she says, “allows me to play around with the composition.”
When the artist returned to Brazil, she had her first solo exhibition, which coincided with the fall of the military junta and the dawn of a more liberal era. She exhibited internationally in the mid-1990s, with curators keen to promote her as part of a new group of Brazilian artists bent on cannibalizing European culture, as did their ancestors, the modernists Emiliano di Cavalcanti and Tarsila do Amaral. had done.
She once said she felt like Paul Gauguin, but in reverse: “He came to the tropics from Europe to give his paintings important atmospheres and colors. I came to Europe from the tropics to give my paintings more meaning, more structure and more interest.’
Early works such as the 1995 painting O Casamento (above) and Mrs. Kaduvel (1996) evoke the city’s carnival – the swirling sequins and fluttering of ostrich feathers carried by Rio’s dancers and the thundering beat of the festival drums.
“I would say that the Rio Carnival Parade is an event that motivates me to be an artist,” says Milhazes. “Its wildness and freedom – it’s fascinating! I’m actually a conceptual one carnivalesca.’
The art of Milhazes embraces the history and heritage of Brazil – particularly the diverse cross-cultural currents found in the country’s folk art, jewellery, fabrics and music. Her work is delightfully cool, intimate and sophisticated, reminiscent of the golden days of the 1950s and 1960s before the military took control.
Their canvases allude to Copacabana Beach: the Roberto Burle Marx-designed sidewalk tiles along the promenade and the vibrant atmosphere after dark. Her paintings, she says, are “about life in Rio, the walk on 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. your painting Meu Limao fetched $2.1 million at auction 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 around the world, most recently with her first-ever solo exhibition in China at the Long Museum in Shanghai.