‘My work is rational, [it is] about intensity, about explosion, about feeling – but it’s very rational, very structured’
(B. Milhazes, ‘Beatriz Milhazes Interview,’ James Cohan Gallery, 2008, http://www.jamescohan.com/artists/beatriz-milhazes/, [accessed 16 September 2015]).
A kaleidoscopic floral motif billows across the canvas in Beatriz Milhazes’ Meu pequeno, forming a hypnotically-layered web of petals. Optically spellbinding, the work encapsulates the artist’s fascination with the geometries of nature and the mathematical beauty of the world around her. Its finely-calibrated, Spirographic structure combines with a vivid palette of pink, green, blue and yellow, applied in rich, pigmented layers to create a mesmerizing, oscillating sense of depth. Milhazes is deeply inspired by the vitality of her native Brazil – from the visual exuberance of Rio’s carnival, to the confluence of bright blue sea and sky, the filigree detail of traditional fabrics and the vibrancy of the city’s Botanical Garden, which her studio overlooks. At the same time, however, the present work bears witness to the canon of European modernist artists upon which her practice is founded, among them Henri Matisse, Bridget Riley, Piet Mondrian and the Brazilian modernist Tarsila do Amaral. In particular the work resonates with Sonia Delaunay’s so-called ‘Orphisme’, in which colourful geometric arcs and curves are derived from naturally occurring tonal and visual harmonies. Milhazes reinterprets this legacy in whorls of concentric petal formations, invoking the Fibonacci number sequences that occur in seeds, flowers, pine cones and leaves. The work also brings 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 precisely-constructed circular forms: most notably the mandala, the Celtic crosses and the rose windows housed in Cathedrals throughout Europe and Latin America.
Milhazes describes her practice as ‘composing painting-scores’. 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. This ‘dialogue with collage’ allows her to engage with her preferred medium – paint – but in a way that parallels the technique of printing. As the artist explains, ‘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’ (B. Milhazes, ‘Beatriz Milhazes Interview,’ James Cohan Gallery, 2008, http://www. jamescohan.com/artists/beatriz-milhazes/, [accessed 25 May 2014]).