Art historian Paulo Herkenhoff refers to one of the key characteristics of Brazilian art as a heightened inclination towards what may best be described as a "baroque delirium,"1 an aesthetic seemingly embedded in the Brazilian DNA. Indeed from Guignard and Tarsila to Volpi, Oiticica, and beyond, Brazilian art has sought to navigate the boundaries between order and chaos, rationality and irrationality, restraint and exuberance, and purity and hybridity.
Perhaps no contemporary Brazilian artist has better exemplified this aesthetic than the carioca-born Beatriz Milhazes. Since the 1980s Milhazes has deftly cultivated an ultra-baroque sensibility that channels such art historical antecedents as Matisse, Mondrian, Tarsila, and more recently Bridget Riley, as well as aspects of geometric abstraction and carnaval culture. Her meticulously crafted paintings reveal a number of recurring visual motifs--arabesques, circles, flowers, lacework, wallpaper patterns, squares, and beads--culled from myriad sources and arranged against solid planes of color. Her rich chromatic hues and kaleidoscope patterns belie the equally strong structural and geometric imperatives present in her work. Indeed Milhazes is part of a generation of contemporary artists intricately concerned with the process and meaning of painting. This is evident in her unique approach that rather than paint directly on the canvas entails painting on small sheets of plastic that once dry are peeled off and adhered to the canvas much like decals. In this sense Milhazes's technique is akin to collage more so than painting and the results are a pictorial surface that is carefully constructed via dynamic and alternating planes of color and pattern set against a square grid--the perennial symbol of modern painting. But Milhazes consciously and irretrievably disrupts the order or purity implied by the square and its stead delivers a visual cornucopia reminiscent of the exuberance and spirit of carnaval.
Executed in 1995, O casamento marries a mélange of elements--garlands of roses, floral pendants, embroidery and lacework, frills, ruffles, beads, moons, sea algae, and stenciled flowers, arranged against multiple geometric planes of color (blue, gold, bronze, orange, black, beige and white) as well as a sparkling moiré-toned deep blue reminiscent of nocturnal oceans waves--to create a work best described by Paulo Herkenhoff as "a garden of earthly delights, a kind of chromatic Eden."2 Here Milhazes succeeds in crafting a synthesized language culled from geometric, organic, decorative, and popular motifs, simplified and rendered as powerful visual and chromatic patterns that defy and expand the possibilities of abstract painting by inserting a specific cultural context--the ethos of the Brazilian carnival. Yet as art critic Barry Schwabsky notes, "because [Milhazes's patterns] are not directly representational, they cross cultural boundaries with great ease . . . ."3 Much like the Baroque travelled from Europe to the Americas absorbing new meanings and idiosyncrasies with each new encounter, so too Milhazes's paintings ably navigate the local and the global--simultaneously carrying and transforming meaning as they travel across multiple cultures and contexts.
1 Paulo Herkenhoff, "Brazil: The Paradoxes of an Alternate Baroque," in exhibition catalogue Ultra Baroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art (San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2000), 128.
2 Paulo Herkenhoff, "Beatriz Milhazes-the Brazilian Trove" in exhibition catalogue Beatriz Mihazes: Mares do Sul (Rio de Janeiro: Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 2002), 139.
3 Barry Schwabsky, "Beatriz Milhazes-Living Color" in Beatriz Mihazes: Mares do Sul, 121.
We are grateful to Fabiana Motta and the artist's studio for their assistance cataloguing this work.