Art can make important statements about the world we live in, art can tell heartbreaking stories, art can entertain, art can befuddle, and, sometimes, art can frustrate us by being crap and lazy. But when people look at art their first reaction tends to be on a fairly gut level. Do they find it aesthetically pleasing or not.
Does it look nice? If those are the parameters you apply to art (and they're perfectly acceptable ones to apply) then I'd seriously recommend you take a trip to the White Cube in Bermondsey because Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes's Rio Azul exhibition is an optical delight, an absolute pleasure to immerse yourself in.
O grande dia (2016-2017)
It was a glorious sunny day as I wandered down through Burgess Park and along the Old Kent Road to the gallery. It would take quite a show to compare with the majesty that nature was providing and if nothing could ever compete with that then Milhazes's art at least complemented it in the finest fashion.
There's a clear influence from the cut-outs of Henri Matisse in the work of this Rio de Janeiro born artist. Unlike Matisse, however, her cut-outs tend to repurpose wrappers and labels, to an almost Kurt Schwitters degree, and she whacks both the contrast and the colour up from French to South American levels.
Alongside the collages hung works like Marilola and Mariola. Like glorified curtains leading into more private areas of certain shops they were adorned with paper, wood, flowers, brass, copper, and even what looked like gaily decorated footballs. Well, she is Brazilian.
Os cisnes com vermelha, rosa e prate (2017)
Bibi em ondas laranjas e cinzas (2017)
Both the collages and the curtains were sensuous and sexy and not a little enigmatic. It was a delight to simply wander the wide spaces of the White Cube letting the colour soak in. The reflections on some of the Perspex screens that shielded the artworks the only, very minor, complaint.
Squiggly lines, straight lines, flowery patterns, images that look like colourful floorboards, fractals even. In some ways this stuff is so basic it should be laughable but done with such a light touch it proved to be an exercise in charm itself.
The programme spoke of "the tropical profusion of Brazil's native flora", "the delicate transparency and grid-like features of its modernist architecture", and a "vertiginous visual experience" and though none of that is wrong you don't need a programme to enjoy this show. You just need eyes. Bette Davis would love it.
Papel japones em amarelo e laranja (2017)
Bala de leite em roxo a azul ultramar (2017)
As irmas em azul celeste (2015-2018)
Hawai em ondas pretas e brancas (2015-2018)
Banho de rio (2017)
Sonho Tropical (2017)
Along the far wall is the centrepiece of the show. Rio azul itself is nearly 3 metres tall and 16 metres wide, it was a strain to fit it in one photograph, and, much like Chris Ofili's installation at the National Gallery last year, its a tapestry rather than a painting. A painstaking amount of work goes into these things but it seemed to me, and was confirmed in a short filmed interview with Milhazes herself that you could watch in a side room, that it was as much an investigation into the similarities between painting and weaving as it was a change of direction for the artists.
The White Cube, Bermondsey has a room with the oh so artworld name of 9x9x9 and in that room there hung Gamboa II. A carnivalesque draping of chains, flowery things, and eye shaped ornamentation. It was alluring, it transfixed, and, in that, it was no different to much of Beatriz Milhazes's really rather lovely art. Você vai menina
Rio Azul (2016-2018)
Gamboa II (2015-2016)