Rio de Janeiro

Beatriz Milhazes

Paço Imperial

This exhibition of prints presented a lesser-known side of Rio de Janeiro-based painter Beatriz Milhazes. Since 1996, the artist has made several visits to Durham Press, in Pennsylvania, in order to produce screenprints. (It was at the invitation of Jean-Paul Russell, one of Andy Warhol’s printers, that Milhazes first began to experiment with serigraphy.) The result of those efforts, large-format works made between 1996 and 1998, were on show at Paço Imperial.

One of the principal exponents of Brazil’s so-called ’80s Generation, Milhazes began, in the middle of that decade, working to develop a new method of painting. When she begins a work on canvas, Milhazes does not paint on it directly. She first paints motifs, drawings, and prototypes on plastic surfaces, peels them off, and then little by little applies them to the canvas, superimposing images and colors and trying out new combinations. Her superimposed curves and curlicues recall doilies and antique embroideries, giving honor to the manual work of women, while other forms suggest hills, waves, precious stones, eyes, suns, even the rocailles of baroque art. At the same time, with their flowers and other symbols of peace and love, these canvases also borrow from the vocabulary of ’70s psychedelia. Sometimes she even challenges the viewer’s perception, choosing narrative titles for the works though no obvious visual link suggests them.

Like her paintings, Milhazes’s screenprints play with notions of ornamentation and decoration, offering a multiplicity of meanings. In these works, too, her signature curving forms, superimposed on one another, evoke arabesques, flowers, and the colorful crocheted tablecloths, woven rugs, and gaily printed fabrics of everyday life in Brazil. While Milhazes’s paintings typically overflow with color, her palette seems almost parsimonious in the prints. In works such as Cabeça de Mulher (Head of a woman), 1996, Entre o Mare a Montanha (Between the ocean and the mountains), 1998, Uva Selvagem (Wild grape), 1998, or O Pato (The swan), 1998, the tones and undertones are artfully juxtaposed—gold and silver, green and pink, blue and yellow. This relative economy of colors may be due in part to the materials used in serigraphy, especially the paper, which can’t bear the weight of too many successive impressions.

But it is the artist’s attitude that is most transformed in the change of support: Instead of making mistakes and corrections as the process unfolds, as she does in her painting, with the final image coming to life only slowly, the silkscreening process demands precise execution. While painting presupposes a pictorial attitude that is linked to time (that allows for changes and erasures) and to the notion of palimpsest, in the prints the element of time is insignificant, as is any trace of facture. And so, despite formal similarities to the paintings, the prints mark a significant conceptual shift in the artist’s work.

Katia Canton

Translated from Portuguese by Sheila Glaser