Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes’ paintings never fail to lift the spirits with their powerful use of patterning and gutsy colour combinations. They’re pleasantly folk art-ish, and if you’re not into folk art they’re pleasantly upmarket packaging-ish and computer graphics-esque, and there are a couple of collages in this show at White Cube Bermondsey in London that make the connection explicitly:
Naturally I’m always interested in how artists put their works together (it’s always useful to increase one’s store of technical knowledge) and the paintings here allowed one to do just that. In particular there’s a pleasant worn-ness about a lot of the surfaces, as if the paint has peeled off through time and wear. One sees this a lot of course in everything from printed fabrics to supermarket signage - it’s part of the advertiser’s enduring quest for authenticity, coupled with the current cult of the handmade. But it’s often used best by painters, because for us surface isn’t an advertisement for a thing, it is the thing. For us, surface is meaning. Or it can be. If you want it to be. Whatever - take a look at this:
Looks pleasantly rough, doesn’t it? Obviously to the right here there’s some scumbling, but what about the left-hand part of the peppermint circle, and the orange part of the circle above it - how are those surfaces made?
Likewise some of the surfaces here. The flatness of the paint is routinely interrupted by incident - accidental-looking incident. This is like gold dust to anyone interested in keeping the viewer’s eye busy (rather than zoning them out with vast immaculate expanses of a single colour à la 1940s-1960s hard-edge painters). Well, after a spot of not too arduous web browsing it turns out Milhazes’ technique for creating this interest is excitingly straightforward.
Very simply she paints motifs in acrylic onto sheets of clear plastic. Then when they’re dry she covers the painted parts with glue (I’m not sure what, presumably something relatively industrial). This glue-painted part - here’s the clever bit - will become the rear of what the viewer sees, because the next step is to stick this glued side to the canvas. Then once the glue is dried, the plastic sheet is peeled away, leaving the acrylic - or most of it at least, because peeling is what introduces these engaging imperfections - stuck to the canvas.
On top of everything else, this technique has another couple of advantages. First, it allows Milhazes to build up a store of motifs ahead of time that she can then use weeks, months or years later. And second, it allows her to mix her compositions around by taping the various sheets of motifs to the canvas prior to committing to any particular arrangement. In both these regards, her technique has as much to do with our contemporary screen-based relationship with imagery - cutting, pasting, dragging & dropping - as with the traditional interface of artist, brush, paint and canvas in a studio.
Plus the paintings look great.