Beatriz Milhazes, Roda Coração I, 2021, acrylic on linen, 74-13/16" × 70-7/8" (190 cm × 180 cm) © Beatriz Milhazes


Mark Godfrey

Surface and Spirituality

Excerpt from full essay
Published Friday, Sep 23, 2022

This essay is taken from (opens in a new window) Beatriz Milhazes: Mistura Sagrada, available for sale from Pace Publishing. It is included alongside a conversation between the artist and Polly Apfelbaum.

Very early into her career, Milhazes decided not to paint her motifs and patterns directly onto canvases, but instead to paint them onto plastic and then transfer them to the canvas surface. She called the process “monotransfer,” and one effect was to eliminate signs of brushwork, because what one saw facing out from the canvas was the smooth side of a painted motif that had been in contact with the plastic, rather than the textured side that faced outward when the paint was laid down. However, the appeal of the monotransfer process was also that it was necessarily imperfect. Look at almost any area of color in a work by Milhazes, and one will see that it has small breaks in the paint because of tiny losses in the process of transferring. Critics have explained the effect of this process in different ways, for instance, associating the paintings as much with a sense of ruin or loss or nostalgia as with the jubilance that they seem to express. The monotransfer process continues to be the main means of paint application in the new paintings, and the look of slight degradation is present in key places on the works (for instance, at the center in the dark-green semicircle in Festa Na Foresta). But toward the peripheries of the canvases, there are areas where paint has been applied directly in small parallel strokes. These are evocative of stitches and threads, and in other paintings, the resemblance to woven surfaces recurs.

There is perhaps a greater range of texture and application in her new paintings than has existed for some time in Milhazes’s work. There are areas that are covered by repetitive dots of paint made with the tip of an acrylic marker (an olive ring on the right in Roda Coração I), or dabs made by flattening a brush against the surface (the gray area in the top right corner of Cirandinha [Round the Rosy], and the blue quadrant in the upper left of Azulão). There are areas where a pattern has been overpainted with a solid color, but thinly enough that its contours show through (in the pink arc toward the top of Roda Coração III). And there are also areas where strokes of a translucent color are laid over a pattern, so that the colors beneath remain visible but slightly altered (the area in the bottom right corner of Cirandinha). Milhazes also deploys an impressive range of paints that absorb and reflect light in different ways: iridescent teals, shiny golds, Day-Glo pinks, as well as all sorts of strong matte colors.


Beatriz Milhazes, Cirandinha, 2022, acrylic on linen, 71-1/4" × 87" (181 cm × 221 cm) © Beatriz Milhazes

But if the surfaces are more complex than ever, in speaking to the artist about the new series, she is at pains to emphasize that she sees these new works as revealing spiritual concerns more clearly than before, too. By this, she does not mean symbols associated with established religions or belief systems. Rather, the paintings come out of thinking about the importance of plants, rivers, and nature as a whole not just to the planet’s health, but to our spiritual wellbeing. And to be in front of them, and to sense flowers, petals, branches, and rivers growing, interpenetrating, circulating, exploding in a festival of color and shape, is to feel uplifted and spiritually heightened. Some of the titles are clues, or even prompts, to this dimension of the paintings: Sonho de Jardineiro (Gardener’s Dream), Natureza Dourada (Golden Nature), Mistura Sagrada (Sacred Revelry).

The surfaces amplify the spiritual power of nature. But at the same time—because of the character of the surfaces, particularly where the monotransfer method has been used—one also senses that the natural life giving rise to this spirituality is as fragile as it is strong. It would not be a surprise if Milhazes, living in Brazil adjacent to areas of great deforestation, senses this fragility acutely; nor would it be amiss to assume that during the lockdowns of this pandemic, she, like many others, was less free to visit sites of natural beauty and more appreciative of them when she did. These paintings reveal how much we have to gain spiritually by caring for and celebrating nature, even while their delicate surfaces infer how precarious our world has become.

  • Essays — Mark Godfrey on Beatriz Milhazes, Sep 23, 2022