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Patterns All Around

How do these three contemporary artists develop motifs?

Patterns are everywhere. Clothing stores sell plaid shirts and polka-dot pants. Checkerboard tiles cover restaurant floors. And some animals, like zebras and Dalmatians, have stripes or spots. Many artists use patterns to decorate surfaces, create emphasis, and even build entire compositions. They find inspiration for patterns in the world around them.

Where can you find patterns in your daily life? Stores sell plaid shirts and polka-dot pants. Checkerboard tiles cover restaurant floors. And some animals, like zebras and Dalmatians, have stripes or spots. Many artists are inspired by patterns in the world around them.

Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960), Bye, Bye, Love, 2011-2012. Acrylic on canvas. Photo credit: Manuel Águas & Pepe Schettino. Courtesy of Beatriz Milhazes.

How does Milhazes play with color and layering in her painting?

A Party of Patterns

Beatriz Milhazes (BEE-a-trees mih-LAH-zehz) lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her paintings buzz with energy inspired by Brazilian Carnival culture and music. “They mix completely different things,” she says of the festivals. Milhazes creates her own mixtures by layering bright, dark, and pastel colors in her paintings. “When you have more than one color, you start a conflict,” she explains.

Milhazes collages with dried paint to create her works. First, she paints a pattern on a plastic sheet. After the paint dries, she glues the design paint-side down to her canvas. Milhazes peels off the plastic sheet once the glue is dry. In her 2011 painting Bye, bye, love, she includes vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines with concentric circles and floral shapes. Milhazes keeps the viewer’s eye moving with patterns that dance across the canvas. “These are not peaceful surfaces,” she says. “There should be some struggle on the surface that creates some activities for your eyes.”

Beatriz Milhazes (BEE-a-trees mih-LAH-zehz) lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazilian Carnival culture and music inspire Milhazes. These festivals “mix completely different things,” she says. Milhazes creates her own mixtures in her artwork. She layers many shapes, colors, and patterns in her paintings. “When you have more than one color, you start a conflict,” she explains.

In her 2011 painting Bye, bye, love, she includes vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines with concentric circles and flower shapes. These patterns seem to dance across the canvas. “These are not peaceful surfaces,” she says. “There should be some struggle on the surface that creates some activities for your eyes.”

Farah Al Qasimi (b. 1991), Woman in Leopard Print, 2019. Inkjet print. Courtesy of Farah Al Qasimi; Helena Anrather, New York; and The Third Line, Dubai.

How does Al Qasimi bring the viewer into her photograph?

Eye on You

In her 2019 photograph Woman in Leopard Print, Farah Al Qasimi (fah-rah al ka-SEE-mee) captures a woman gazing into a tiny mirror. The mirror reflects the woman’s eye, pulling the viewer into the scene. The bold leopard-print head scarf adds movement and excitement.

Al Qasimi, who grew up in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, captures the leopard-print pattern in a photograph rather than creating it by hand. The scene is a seemingly mundane moment, but at the same time it presents a a flash of glamor with a trendy print in the foreground and glittering fingernails in the background. The image is part of a series for which Al Qasimi walked around New York snapping photographs in the moment and observing scenes to re-create later in her studio. “I compare the act of photographing something to the act of it being reflected in a funhouse mirror that warps or exaggerates reality,” says Al Qasimi.

This 2019 photograph is titled Woman in Leopard Print. The photographer, Farah Al Qasimi (fah-rah al ka-SEE-mee), captures a woman gazing into a tiny mirror. The woman wears a bold leopard-print head scarf. This adds movement and excitement to the photo.

Al Qasimi, who grew up in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, walked around New York City, snapping photographs of people. Later, she re-created the scenes she liked in her studio. This photo shows a woman checking her makeup. The trendy print in the foreground and shiny fingernails in the background make the image seem glamorous. Al Qasimi says photographing something is like reflecting it in a funhouse mirror. The photo “warps or exaggerates reality,” she explains.

Crystal Liu (b. 1980), “the moon and the tides, ‘a rocky start’”, 2017. Gouache, watercolor, and collage on paper. Credit: ©Crystal Liu.

What patterns do you notice in Liu’s composition?

Nature at Night

Using just black, gray, white, and gold watercolors and gouache (a type of paint similar to watercolor but more opaque), Crystal Liu (lee-yoh) captures a scene in nature. Liu, who lives in San Francisco, California, uses a poetic title to set a mysterious mood in her 2017 work “the moon and the tides, ‘a rocky start.’ ”

Liu creates her own patterned paper using a marbling technique. She floats paint on top of water, then lays paper over it to transfer the marble pattern. The artist uses gold and white spots to represent the movement of water. Irregular black and gray shapes represent jagged rocks as a glowing moon dips behind mountains in the background. How does Liu build each part of this composition using pattern?

In this 2017 painting, Crystal Liu (lee-yoh) paints a scene in nature. Liu, who lives in San Francisco, California, titles the work “the moon and the tides, ‘a rocky start.’ ” The poetic name helps the artist set a mysterious mood.

Liu creates her own patterned paper for her artwork. The artist uses gold and white spots to show the movement of water. Black and gray shapes represent jagged rocks. A glowing moon dips behind mountains in the background. How does Liu use patterns to represent each different part of this work?

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