It's been over two decades since Milhazes' last solo institutional show at Birmingham's Ikon gallery in 2001 – her first in UK. This one’s a first, too – for Clarrie Wallis, whose new program promises to put Turner Contemporary on the world stage with a series of exhibitions by international artists. Maresias is an unashamedly joyful way to kickstart her tenure.
Turner Contemporary's new Beatriz Milhazes survey is called Maresias, 'sea air' in Portuguese. Neat. Not only has she transported her native coastal Rio de Janeiro to the kitsch tea rooms, plinky plonk amusement arcades, fish and chips and faded hotels of sandy Margate, this might be the summeriest summer exhibition ever. It begins in the foyer, where a two-storey high ‘stained-glass window’ made from bright vinyl greets the viewer and frames the view out to sea.
"this might be the summeriest summer exhibition ever"
The exhibition begins with late 1980s and 90s, when Milhazes first developed her 'monotransfer' technique – drawing and painting her own motifs onto plastic sheets which are then transferred onto canvas. In doing so, she unites painting and collage and almost-but-not-quite eradicates the artist's hand; sandcastleish cracks emerge in their surfaces, remaining part of them.
"the gravitational pull of this or that chrysanthemum"
Such flattening underscores the equal privilege granted to all her paintings’ elements: Milhazes canvases are lightning rods, effortlessly gathering the energy of their locales. Floral fabric elements sit side by side with peace symbols, brocades and details from Baroque colonial architecture. Much like a great summer holiday – the experience of sunspots as you walk through a bustling market, spat out by a Catholic church where you spill sweet juice down your chin – Milhazes is a master of keeping you immersed in the midst of the middest, embedded in what philosophers would call the qualia, that is, the indefinable something-ness of something.
There is no distinction between so-called high and low culture, or between art and life, as branded sweet wrappers merge with architectural motifs. A Casa de Maria recalls crochet and techniques traditionally dismissed as craft, while its golden colour evokes the august ornamentation of Catholic church domes. Although there is a lazy-riverish chronological flow to the exhibition, the viewer will soon forget it, instead getting sucked in by the gravitational pull of this or that chrysanthemum, peony or rosette – fireworks or a single flower in a wild meadow’s worth of them, as the case may be. Then, like a bee, you’re soon buzzing off to another detail.
"Milhazes canvases are lightning rods, effortlessly gathering the energy of their locales"
Mixing motifs with levity, Milhazes drew inspired from the Anthropofagia movement of the 1960s, which aimed to create a distinctly Brazilian aesthetic by stirring the colonial and various other traditions and influences in the country’s mercurial melting pot. As well as remixing the culture around her, she samples freely from herself. She describes herself as a scientist, creating works via a 'chain reaction'. New directions emerge from favoured motifs: mandalas repeat, circles pulse, as if representing sounds. Whether it’s samba or psychedelia, Milhazes’ paintings soon have you dancing to their rhythm.
By Sammi Gale