Beatriz Milhazes’ first and, to date, only visit to Vienna took place over two decades ago. It was in the winter of 1999, when she spent three weeks here working on a project that ultimately never came to fruition due to lack of funding. The Brazilian artist recalls a cold, grey, depressing atmosphere, which was thankfully brightened by visits to the Vienna State Opera. Being quite the opera lover, she was familiar with the opera house’s reputation and was delighted by the three performances she attended there. Winter in Vienna is without doubt very different from winter in Rio. Milhazes describes the latter as a relatively mild season which has nothing in common with the cold and darkness prevalent in most parts of Europe. Could it be her memories of Vienna that inspired her to bring us some warmth and cheer with Pink Sunshine?
This is a question to which the artist has given no answer. Titles do not play an important part in her work. Every now and again she chooses one which has a thematic connection to the work, but otherwise she only gives the works titles in order to be able to distinguish between them. What is more striking about Pink Sunshine is the unusual artistic creative period which the composition represents, the conditions for which were dictated by the current context of the pandemic.
Milhazes is first and foremost a painter. Even though she works with various techniques such as painting, collages, screen printing, sculpture and tapestry, the bedrock of her oeuvre is painting, for which she employs not only classic canvas as the carrier medium but also walls, glass or ceramic. However, the limitations imposed by the spread of Covid-19 and the temporary closure of her studio forced her to adapt her work and motivated her to spend her time on drawing. Usually Milhazes produces very few, if any, drawings. The exceptions are the sketches that serve as preparatory work for exceptionally large-scale paintings, murals or tapestries, defining the composition and colouration with rough outlines. However, during the pandemic, when, like many others, she spent a great deal of time at home, she discovered an interest in the intimacy of drawing. For the first time in her more than thirty-year-long career she worked intensively on drawing and has now come to understand it as not merely a preliminary stage but as a work of art in its own right. It is one of these drawings that serves as the model for Milhazes’ Safety Curtain design.
When you look at Pink Sunshine, the first thing that you notice is the colourfulness. Through the interaction between delicate pastel notes and intense colours, between circles, lines and waves, the tripartite nature of the composition becomes evident. In the central and also calmest third, lines, both straight and curved, meet and, rather like a seascape, form the background for a series of geometrical elements that appear to wind their way upwards like a climbing plant. The themes of the wavy line, the leaf-like shape and the circle are repeated in the left- and right-hand sections. On the left, the leaves seem to form the crown of a tree, alongside which lilac-pink buds and a red bloom are flowering on a branch.
In the right-hand third the motifs are more densely packed. Ellipses overlap and form leaves. Their special feature, the highly contrasting shading, takes on angular shapes. The colourful crescents in the circles create a sense of movement and dynamic. This proliferation of shapes and colours is crowned by the already familiar motif of a flowering branch and two flowers, one red and one yellow.
Milhazes considers proximity to nature to be essential for mental and physical well-being. She needs nature in order to be able to work, and walks by the sea to be able to breath freely and fully. It is no mere coincidence that her studio is located just a few steps away from Rio de Janeiro’s impressive Botanic Gardens. She loves her home town, especially the ubiquity of nature for which it is known. Now more than ever, in the context of the pandemic, a period characterised by a sense of danger and uncertainty, she has come to regard nature as an essential retreat.
Nevertheless, Milhazes does not seek to reproduce lifelike depictions of flowers and plants in her work. Instead, her work is characterised by lively compositions with abstract ornaments, stylised floral motifs, geometric shapes and rhythmic patterns in bold, vibrant colours. Although her complex compositions appear asymmetric, they follow strict guidelines. Milhazes describes herself as a person who loves order, and her painting as highly rational and geometric.
Her optimistic character, her gaiety and her joie de vivre are truly contagious and permeate her works. This is primarily due to the intensity of the colours. The whole surface is covered with colour, nothing is left untouched. The motifs overlap and seem to continue beyond the edges of the work. The individual compositional elements form uniform coloured areas with sharp edges, sometimes creating glaring contrasts. It is this confrontation between colours that Milhazes particularly values, creating a conflict from which she anticipates neither winners nor losers.
Milhazes’ main sources of reference are Western art history and the history and culture of her homeland. In addition to Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian and the flower power aesthetic from the 1970s, she also draws on Brazilian Modernismo. This cultural movement enjoyed its golden age from the 1920s to the 1940s, rejecting Brazil’s dependency upon Europe due to its colonisation. The popular culture and traditions of her home country likewise play an important role. Milhazes regards the carnival as extremely important, and even if she herself does not actively participate in it, she finds the energy, the rhythm, the wildness and the freedom so typical of the carnival both fascinating and inspiring.