‘I am an abstract painter and I speak an international language, but my interest is in things and behaviors that can only be found in Brazil’ – B. Milhazes
Stretching over two metres in height, Beatriz Milhazes’ Sampa presents a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour and form. Rendered in vivid tones of pink, aquamarine, lilac and yellow, a hypnotic effusion of Spirographic structures billows across the canvas, applied in rich, saturated layers to create a mesmerising, oscillating sense of depth. Executed between 2005 and 2006, the work bears witness to the artist’s engagement with her Brazilian heritage, channeling the opulence of the Baroque, the fine filigree patterns that adorn pageant costumes, the confluence of bright blue sea and sky, the vibrancy of the botanical gardens that lie outside her Rio studio, and the visual exuberance of the city’s carnival. ‘I would say that the Carnival parade of Rio is an event that motivates me to be an artist’, she claims. ‘Its wildness and freedom – it’s fascinating!...I’m actually a conceptual carnavelsca’ (B. Milhazes, quoted in D. Ebony, ‘Conceptual Carnavelsca’, Art in America, March 2015, p. 132).
In Sampa, Milhazes’ native influences combine with a deep appreciation of European abstract idioms: in particular, those of Sonia Delaunay, Henri Matisse, Bridget Riley and Piet Mondrian, whose works she encountered on her first trip to Europe in 1985. Preferring to paint in silence, Milhazes approaches her compositions with calculated intensity, mentally mapping the distribution of her geometric motifs onto the blank canvas before her. Since the early 1990s, the artist has cultivated an idiosyncratic technique of painting intricate designs onto sheets of plastic and transposing them onto the canvas paint side down. The result is a vibrantly pigmented canvas, its smoothed surface devoid of the coarseness of brushstrokes. This monotype-like process also takes on a reductive quality as Milhazes peels back the plastic, transferring only a fragmented imprint to the canvas. The artist describes the results as ‘very hand-made, the technique I use denies you the possibility to touch the hand signs of the painter. The organism of the construction of my paintings is subverted by the smooth and quite equal texture of it’ (B. Milhazes, ‘Interview with Beatriz Milhazes,’ in RES Art World/ World Art, no. 2, May 2008, p. 7). The unpredictable nature of this process allows the artist to work spontaneously, evaluating the composition after each layer, allowing the elaborate designs to grow organically. The result is a careful, rational calibration of space that intersects with the free play of her imagination.