'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, quoted in A. Drucks, 'Beatriz Milhazes: No Fear of Beauty', in ArtMag, n.p.).
A kaleidoscopic painting extending nearly two metres in length, Madame Caduvel is an exceptional, early work by Beatriz Milhazes from 1996. An opulent explosion of colour and form, elaborate motifs sweep across the canvas; dazzling mandalas and baroque arabesques collide with a cascading trio frilled rosettes, while brilliant disks of ripe orange float across expanses of teal and chartreuse. The beautifully worked surface celebrates the sensory pleasures of pattern through the intricate network of pointillist dots spread over a speckled quadrant of twilight blue, their measured undulation imparting the cadenced rhythm of a samba.
The uninhibited expression of colour and elaborate motifs of Madame Caduvel echo the vibrancy of Milhazes' Brazilian heritage. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, rich cultural references emerge from the vivid chromatic patterns: overlapping motifs of traditional chitõ fabrics and garlands, architectural ornamentation, beads, and flowers, capture a vision of modern day Brazil. As the artist has identified, '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, quoted in A. Drucks, 'Beatriz Milhazes: No Fear of Beauty', ArtMag, n.p.).
Since the beginning of her practice in the early 1990s, Milhazes has developed a unique artistic 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 unpredictable nature of this process allows the artist to work spontaneously, evaluating the composition after each layer, allowing the elaborate designs to grow organically.
Inspired by her early exposure to Henri Matisse's cut-out collages in art history textbooks, Milhazes' layering quality adds an additional art historical context and additional degree of depth to the work. Visually recalling Matisse's collaged canvas, The Sadness of the King, 1952, with its bright bands of colour of overlaid motifs of cut-out gouache, the balanced formal tensions of Matisse's superpositioned layers informs the tactile layers of Madame Caduvel. The brilliantly coloured stratums act as a metaphor for her hybridised paintings, blending modernist structure and ornamental decoration, traditional art historical references and modern day Brazilian culture; the tactility of the sumptuous bronze and aquamarine rosettes introduces a sense of pictorial depth into Milhazes' canvas that hints at representation without ever defining it. So too does the artist's titles take on this lyrical, equivocal nature, describing their names as 'the fruits of your imagination, time, state of mind. Of soul' (B. Milhazes, in interview with C. von Schmidt, Artes, Venice, 14 June 2003). In this way, Milhazes offers a personal interpretation of her native Brazil through the lens of modernist art history.