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


Beatriz Milhazes (Brazilian b. 1960)
signed, dated and titled 'B. Milhazes 1994 Matryoshkas' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 52 7/8 in. (60 x 134.3 cm.)
Painted in 1994.
Ramis Barquet Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Beatriz Milhazes, Monterrey, Galería Ramis Barquet, 1994 (illustrated in color).
Monterrey, Galería Ramis Barquet, Beatriz Milhazes, 3 June- 2 July 1994.

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Camila Femenias
Camila Femenias

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Fabiana Motta and the artist's studio for their assistance cataloguing this work.

I do not want to be an abstract artist in the conventional sense. It is not enough for me to go to the studio and just think about squares . . .
--Beatriz Milhazes1

Beatriz Milhazes’s kaleidoscopic paintings exemplify a hybrid aesthetic in which such seemingly contrasting elements as structure and geometry coalesce harmoniously with color and pattern to create works that merge a plethora of histories and cultural referents while unabashedly investigating notions of “beauty” whilst expanding the very possibilities of painting. Indeed Milhazes belongs to a generation of artists who emerged during the late 1980s (e.g., Polly Apfelbaum, Guillermo Kuitca, Adriana Varejão, Enoc Perez, Christopher Wool, etc.) and reinvigorated painting—amid claims of its imminent death—by crafting new approaches that simultaneously embrace and challenge the language and history of painting.

Based in Rio de Janeiro, as art historian Paulo Herkenhoff well states, “Milhazes’s oeuvre is impregnated with the idea of “living in Rio.”2 ndeed a true Carioca, Milhazes’s studio is located just steps away from the Jardim Botânico and within view of Tijuca Forest, one of the world’s largest urban forests. Both are a persistent presence and an unquestionable source of inspiration for her paintings, as they have been for generations of artists before her from the nineteenth-century Parisian transplant Nicolas-Antoine Taunay (1755-1830) to the twentieth century landscapist Alberto da Veiga Guignard (1896-1962). However Milhazes’s paintings are equally informed by such disparate art historical antecedents as Matisse, Mondrian, Delaunay, 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, fruit, lacework, wallpaper patterns, squares, and beads—culled from myriad sources and typically arranged against solid planes of color. Her rich chromatic hues and dynamic patterns belie the equally strong structural and geometric imperatives present in her work. Milhazes’s approach to painting is decidedly conceptual and reflects a critical engagement with notions of process and the meaning of painting.

Works such as Matryoshkas (1994), denote a significant development in the artist’s work that would henceforth become one of its most distinctive features and certainly one of the central signifying aspects of her work. In the early 1990s Milhazes transformed the manner in which she painted, by introducing a method similar to decals in which she paints on sheets of plastic that are then glued to the canvas. This meticulous process enables the artist to construct the pictorial surface layer by layer resulting in a collage-like effect that imbues her paintings with a dynamic interplay of alternating shapes, planes of color and patterns that visually set her canvases in a perennial state of motion.

And, while her most recent work has become increasingly more abstract, Matryoshkas dates from a period in the early to mid-1990s, when as Milhazes states “ . . . I was starting to exhibit my work in Latin America, especially Mexico, but also Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. My notebooks from this time are full of Catholic iconography, drawings of details from ecclesiastical architecture as well as women’s costumes with a lot of ruffles and roses and lace . . . very heavy! My work was very figurative as I was looking at portraits and all sorts of ornamental motifs.”3 This “figurative” approach is evident in the present work, where a lace festooned platter of cherries forms the central motif and suggests a painted Renaissance tondo while an arabesque pattern weaves in and out of the background further injecting a sense of rhythm and whimsy. Milhazes’s interest in women’s costumes is here underscored by the painting’s title “Matryoshkas,” also known as Russian nesting dolls. Traditionally comprised of a collection of figurines or dolls each decreasing in size and one contained within the other, the concept metaphorically suggest Milhazes’s own approach to painting in which the effects of peeling the decals exposes successive layers of color and patterns.

Likewise the prematurely aged appearance of the canvas, the product of ripping the painted “decals” off after the glue has dried to reveal the reverse image now permanently adhered to the canvas, challenges the smooth, pristine surfaces associated with several aspects of post war painting from pop to geometric abstraction and color field painting all of which informed Milhazes’s practice as a painter. But far from being content with simply “citing” these sources Milhazes “unpacks them” much like the Russian nesting dolls and in the process crafts a distinct approach that affirms her unique contribution to recent painting.

1 See “Thinking Differently: Beatriz Milhazes in conversation with Jonathan Watkins” in exhibition catalogue Beatriz Milhazes: Mares do Sul (Rio de Janeiro: Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 2002), 102.
2 Paulo Herkenhoff, “Beatriz Milhazes—the Brazilian Trove” in exhibition catalogue Beatriz Milhazes: Mares do Sul (Rio de Janeiro: Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 2002), 140.
3 “Thinking Differently,” 101.


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