Beatriz Milhazes (Brazilian, born 1960)
Acrylic, metallic paint, metal leaf on canvas; 102 x 33 7/8 in. (259.1 x 86 cm)
Purchase, Gift of Professor and Mrs. Zevi Scharfstein, by exchange, 1998 (1998.80)
The Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes fuses modernist styles of painting with the emblems of her cultural heritage. Her abstract compositions are typically layered with imagery, particularly floral designs and ornate circular medallions. Milhazes draws upon local visual traditions as diverse as Baroque colonial art, with the filigree halos of its saints; folk styles of decorative painting on furniture and architecture; and the mass-produced textiles, wallpaper, and ceramic tile of her everyday surroundings. In addition, her brilliant color schemes recall the costumes and parade floats of Carnival, especially as celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, her hometown and the cultural capital of Brazil.
For The Beach, Milhazes devised a narrow, vertical format with a cascading, off-center arrangement of forms. The upper portion suggests a cluster of vines laden with fruit and flowers, as well as elaborate orbs that evoke heavenly bodies or hanging lanterns. The composition as a whole can be viewed as a woman in profile, wearing a tiered, ruffled skirt and concealing herself behind the draping vines and jewel-like spheres. The traditionally "feminine" motifs of flowers and ornamental trimmings are not only typical of Milhazes' work, but also establish associations between her art and certain crafts customarily assigned to women, such as lacemaking, sewing, and beadwork.
Like her imagery, Milhazes' working method is eclectic, and derives from both printmaking and collage. She paints her images on sheets of plastic, and then applies the images to the canvas by means of transfer techniques. This process gives the painted forms an unusual smoothness of surface, which she then embellishes with details in visible brushwork. The completed canvas, however, is a seamlessly conceived image that seduces the eye with its interplay of festive colors, layered forms, and patternings of ornament and abstraction.