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Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960)
Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960)


Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960)
signed, titled and dated 'B. Milhazes "Palmolive" 2004' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
78¼ x 98½ in. (198.7 x 250.1 cm.)
Painted in 2004.
Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

A sumptuous and luxuriant beauty suffuses the canvas in an array of blues, reds, pinks and violets, a palette that is at once an essay on the vibrant combinatorial effects of mixed hues and a collage of cultural influences drawn from both European modernism and Latin American carnival. Imaginatively fusing the modernist grid with images and colors derived from Brazil's natural forms, Beatriz Milhazes forges a stylistic link between historic and contemporary art practices, rigorously structuring a bravura panoply of indigenous natural artifacts into an explosive display of radical abstraction. The frisson of juxtapositions is enhanced by the rhythmic vitality of collaged elements--a tension enhanced by shifts in the scale of each image as well as the accumulations of layers, the juxtaposition of colors and the disposition of motifs laid over, under and adjacent to each other, where transparent layering, hard-edged abutments and a melding of motifs are linked both by the bleeding of pigment and the filigree of calligraphic linear formations approximating targets and radial circular arcs.

The stunning, central mandala-shaped motif, its harmonic equilibrium anchored in complementary blue-violets and umbers accented with high-keyed pinks and whites, is echoed throughout the canvas in joyful iterations, which create a riotous roiling of hue and shape that nonetheless establishes optical tensions. Milhazes sees her work as evolving from three European modernists, Piet Mondrian, Henri Matisse and Sonia Terk Delaunay, each contributing elements of their signature styles to her richly layered collations. The grid is essential for Mondrian's mature period, while Matisse's luminescent cut-outs, particularly those transformed into glorious stain-glassed windows, parallel in their blazing translucence Milhazes own vinyl works for large window murals (for example, Contemporary Art Museum, Tokyo). As Matisse wrote to Alfred Barr of his own Christmas window in 1952, "The maquette for a sainted-glass window and the window itself are like a musical score and its performance by an orchestra." In a similar manner, Milhazes absorbs Sonia Terk Delaunay and her husband Robert Delaunay's colorful geometric arcs and curves of Orphisme (referring to Orpheus, the poet and musician of Greek myth), a practice that draws on naturally occurring tonal and visual harmonies. Like Milhazes' Palmolive, their works stress balance achieved in overlapping and juxtaposed planes, which resonate with a Cubist structuring of space.

Milhazes' exuberant campaigns combine this visual vocabulary in whorls of concentric circles, spirals and petal formations. Populating the canvas in overlapping swirls of coloration, Palmolive derives its allure in part from the naturally occurring Fibonacci sequence of numbers in seed and flower heads, flower petals and leaves. Milhazes forms also call to mind the symbolic spiritual geometry of the Southeast Asian religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but equally that of Christianity, all of which share finely worked circular forms, for example in the universal symbol of the mandala from India and Celtic crosses and rose windows housed in Cathedrals throughout Europe and Latin America.

Nature's circularities along with their elemental appeal, arise from Milhazes' physical environment as well. Situated close to Rio de Janeiro's famed Botanical Gardens and surrounded by the natural splendor of the Atlantic ocean and the city, Milhazes never tires of the beauty in which she has immersed herself. Whether dynamic contrasts of colors in the vast array of bromeliads and water lilies or the blues and greens of the ocean, "nature always participates in my work as an atmosphere; it surrounds me; and I like to be surrounded by nature" (B. Milhazes, "Beatriz Milhazes," Video, New York, 2008). Indeed, the notion of dialogue, interrelationships with nature, culture and art history is central to Milhazes work. When she speaks about her "exchange with nature," it is in the same breath that she speaks about the source of her technique-collage collage. Having literally engaged with cutting out and pasting paper and fabrics on canvas, Milhazes moved to drawing on vinyl. With paints, Milhazes creates a motif on a rectangular sheet of plastic, which she then glues to the canvas. After the paint dries, she peels off the plastic, leaving the image fused to the canvas. This "dialogue with collage" allows her to engage with her preferred medium, paint, but in a way that parallels the technique of printing. She prefers a relatively smooth facture, the absence of the trace of a brush stroke. "I like this more soft effect, the texture of plastic that becomes very soft, so the brush stroke is filtered by the texture of the plastic. This has helped me not only conceptually, but [also with] making my images really happen so that the whole developing of the painting happens" (Ibid.).

Milhazes' aesthetic framework is influenced not only by European constructivism and geometric abstraction, but also by the culture in which her work took root. Born during the height of Brazil's cultural transformation, Milhazes' paintings express themselves as both subversive and inclusive, emblematic of a drive to throw off the formative, if diluting, effects of European colonialism-to take from Europeans certain characteristics while at the same time foregrounding her own indigenous culture and forms. Milhazes' Palmolive fully expresses this revitalizing impulse. Indeed, she cites Tarsila Amaral's vivid canvases, in particular those associated with Amaral's husband, Oswald de Andrade, and his proclamation of 1928-1929, the "Anthropophagite Manifesto," which called for the literal ingestion of European culture and its absorption into Latin American art and culture. And although Milhazes would locate much of her work in formal structures:

"My work is rational, [it is] about intensity, about explosion, about feeling-but it's very rational, very structured" just as she would have us think "[my] painting is based on a square and a grid" (Ibid.)-it is not quite true that these things "tell[...] you everything" (Ibid.). For the fantastically imaginative use of the square (never geometrically accurate), of color, form and technique in Palmolive expresses Milhazes' cathartic and imaginative impulses, which are realized in her drive toward collage--toward hybrid forms--and account for the remarkable equilibrium she achieves in this highly charged canvas held in check by the grid.

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