Beatriz Milhazes: From Rio to St Ives
Advisory Perspective

Beatriz Milhazes: From Rio to St Ives

By Phoebe Bradford | St Ives, 7 June 2024

From the rhythms of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival to the nature of Tijuca National Park, Beatriz Milhazes draws inspiration from her homeland's culture, channelling its vibrancy into her kaleidoscopic paintings.

Her work features complex arrangements of patterns in brilliant hues, often layered atop one another to create a dizzying interplay between colour and form.

At Tate St Ives, the Brazilian artist opens her survey exhibition, Maresias (25 May–29 September 2024). The exhibition travels from Turner Contemporary, which hosted an iteration of the show in Margate in 2023.

Beatriz Milhazes, Banho de Rio (2017). Acrylic on canvas. 280 x 300 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio.

Beatriz Milhazes, Banho de Rio (2017). Acrylic on canvas. 280 x 300 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio. Courtesy Tate, St Ives and Ivor Braka, White Cube Ltd. Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

Milhazes spoke with Ocula, sharing insights into her approach to colour, the rhythmic quality of her paintings, and the connections between Brazil and England's coastlines.

How has your life in Rio de Janeiro influenced your work, particularly with regard to cultural elements like the Rio Carnival, Tijuca National Park, the atmosphere of local favelas (shantytowns), and Bossa Nova music?

As an artist from the tropics, the exuberant environment in which I grew up, live, and work makes me think differently. I try to capture Rio's energy, calling to mind carnival parades and lush tropical landscapes with joyous displays of colour that defy expectations of order.

My influences range from Brazilian and European modernism to nature, Baroque to Pop art, encompassing all the beauty and contrasts found in Rio de Janeiro.

Your studio is close to the city's botanical garden, and nature plays an important role in your work. What draws you to the nature in Rio?

The flowers in the botanical gardens are a significant source of inspiration for me. In painting, the representation of flowers transcends mere combinations of form and colour. Flowers are integral to various life rituals, marking both happy and sad occasions. In decorative applied art, popular art, and Indigenous art, they are frequently a focal point. I find the spiritual connection between flowers and humans particularly fascinating.

Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

Flowers are an infinite source for my compositional research. They present an extensive and experimental range of motifs, elements, forms, and colours. My inventory of flower drawings, initially derived from observations of applied arts like handcrafts, textiles, and architecture, has expanded to include direct observations of nature and life.

Some have been used in the same format and colours, while others change according to the composition's structure and motion. Each time, they interact differently with other elements, creating interesting spatial reactions.

The vibrancy of colour in your work is remarkable. What is your approach to colour?

Beatriz Milhazes, Mel (2010). Acrylic on canvas. 200 x 220 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio. Photo: Sid Hoeltzell.

Beatriz Milhazes, Mel (2010). Acrylic on canvas. 200 x 220 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio. Photo: Sid Hoeltzell.

Colour combinations are the essence of my work process. If I don't feel the combination is ready, I cannot consider a painting finished.

In the 1990s, my work often conveyed a melancholic tone, which later evolved into strong, pulsive contrasts. It then progressed to optical and hard geometry, engaging in a poetic dialogue with popular art and art history.

Painting is a medium, but colour is a natural, infinite power—it's about life, rigour, beauty, and pleasure.

Your paintings often exude a rhythmic quality, evoking parallels with music and mathematics. Do you believe this connection enhances your ability to articulate form?

I've always been interested in the relationship between nature and mathematics. My creative process follows a rational path, akin to constructing equations in my mind. I think about the intricate structure of nature and art history, creating spaces to explore complex orders and conceptual systems.

Geometry serves as a framework for my artistic sensibility, shaping it into diagonals, patterns, textures, motifs, and forms. The array of tools at my disposal infuses my work with chromatic joy and poetic depth.

Beatriz Milhazes, O Desfile de Leques I (2023). Acrylic on canvas. 199.5 x 260 cm. Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

Beatriz Milhazes, O Desfile de Leques I (2023). Acrylic on canvas. 199.5 x 260 cm. Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

This outcome is a physical dialogue that moves across the canvas, combining different rhythms like a choreographed dance set to a musical score. Each painting is a unique manifestation of a mathematical dream.

The exhibition title, Maresias, refers to Rio de Janeiro's salty sea breeze. Last year, the exhibition was on view at Turner Contemporary in Margate before making its way to St Ives. What connections did you discover between the coastlines of Brazil and England?

Being in St Ives is special for me as I can smell the sea breeze from the same ocean as when I am in Rio de Janeiro. It feels like a beautiful connection between art and nature, bridging different cultures with the same body of water.

The survey show at Tate is a poetic journey observing complexity through my creative process—sometimes pleasant, others painful, but always a special moment to celebrate life.

The U.K. has been a particularly supportive place for my work, and the exhibition Maresias, feels like a gift to me. The show presents the evolution of my work across different periods, showcasing a strong collection of paintings and collages curated with intelligent and sensitive thought.

Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

Exhibition view: Beatriz Milhazes, Maresias, Tate St Ives, St Ives (25 May–29 September 2024). © Tate. Photo: Jai Monaghan.

You recently revealed a special project for the 2024 Venice Biennale. How does it feel to return to Venice after representing Brazil in 2003?

Returning to Venice in 2024 was overwhelming. This year, I was invited to develop a special project at the Applied Arts Pavilion in the Arsenale, organised through a collaboration between the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Biennale.

At the centre of the pavilion are five paintings, each of which emerged from preliminary drawings inspired by research of woven, printed, and embroidered textiles.

These textiles, sourced from places like Guatemala, India, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and Africa, among others, offer an incredible array of motifs, figurative forms, abstract elements, textures, and vibrant colours, igniting infinite possibilities for chromatic palettes.

Displayed in a long glass-top vitrine table, these textiles accompany the paintings and symbolise a sensitive moment of how people across cultures preserve their cultural roots and natural environments.

Beatriz Milhazes, Fleur de la passion: Maracujá (1995–1996). Acrylic on canvas. 119.7 x 202.6 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio.

Beatriz Milhazes, Fleur de la passion: Maracujá (1995–1996). Acrylic on canvas. 119.7 x 202.6 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio. Courtesy Thibault Poutrel Collection. Photo: Thomas DuBrock.

In the same space, a landscape tapestry, designed by myself, engages in a dialogue with the group of paintings and the vitrine-table, creating an experience that celebrates contemplation and interaction with the Pavilion's brick walls, columns, and historical ambiance.

This project embodies a celebration of poetry, beauty, and a circuit of affections. It's an homage to the history that shapes future memories. —[O]

Main image: Beatriz Milhazes, O Diamante (2002) (detail). Acrylic on canvas. 250 x 381 cm. © Beatriz Milhazes Studio. Courtesy Contemporary Art Collection 'la Caixa' Foundation, Valencia.


Selected Artworks

Azulão by Beatriz Milhazes contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Beatriz Milhazes Azulão, 2021/2022 Acrylic on linen
190.5 x 160 cm
Pace Gallery
Festa Na Floresta by Beatriz Milhazes contemporary artwork painting
Beatriz Milhazes Festa Na Floresta, 2021 Acrylic on canvas
220 x 281 cm
Pace Gallery
Roda Coração II by Beatriz Milhazes contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Beatriz Milhazes Roda Coração II, 2021 Acrylic on linen
180 x 199.4 cm
Pace Gallery
Uva Passa by Beatriz Milhazes contemporary artwork painting
Beatriz Milhazes Uva Passa, 1999 Acrylic on canvas
228.6 x 97.5 cm
Pace Gallery
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Ocula discover the best in contemporary art icon.
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