Carnival of Color

The swirling rhythms, floral motifs and intoxicating colors of Beatriz Milhazes’ paintings
have made her Latin America’s most sought-after living artist

Words by Rachel Spence
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Once seen, a Beatriz Milhazes canvas is never forgotten. The 54-year-old Brazilian’s palette races through tangy citrus, raspberry, blueberry, coral, mint, scarlet and sky-blue. Sharpened here and there by linear shapes, the leitmotif is the sphere, often figured as a tropical flower. But she explodes the curves into fragmented arabesques that swirl and spiral across the canvas.
Rather than working directly on canvas, Milhazes paints on sheets of plastic which she then lays on to her surface and peels away. From a distance, her paintings possess flawless, graphic sheen; close up, subtle shifts of tone and texture inject a vigorous, carnal vitality.
Today, her oeuvre has garnered worldwide recognition, with works residing in New York’s Guggenheim Museum and MoMA. In 2012, her painting My Lemon sold at Sotheby’s for $2.1 million, making her Brazil’s most expensive living artist at the time.
Last year the Paço Imperial cultural center hosted her first retrospective for ten years in Rio de Janeiro, her native city. For Milhazes, the experience was thrilling. “The pulse of this city is incredible right now,” she tells me at her studio in Rio. But it was nerve-racking, too. “People say, ‘I love your work’, but many have only ever seen it in books.
”This year, her sights are set on her first major U.S. retrospective, at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Milhazes is keen to make her mark on a city she views as “a bridge between North and South America.” She is also enthused by the museum’s spectacular new building, whose glass walls are framed by a pergola of hanging gardens.
“I love the way that nature is integrated with the space,” she says, adding that the rapport with flora mirrors the tension in her own work, which thrives on the clash of landscapes. “I love to be surrounded by the city and yet also by nature. That’s why I love Rio and Miami.”
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