The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

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NOV 2020 Issue

Tjebbe Beekman: Symbiosis

Tjebbe Beekman, <em>Symbiosis VIII</em>, 2020. Acrylic, sand, and plaster on canvas mounted to wood panel, each 79 7/8 x 40 1/2 inches. Courtesy the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York.
Tjebbe Beekman, Symbiosis VIII, 2020. Acrylic, sand, and plaster on canvas mounted to wood panel, each 79 7/8 x 40 1/2 inches. Courtesy the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York.

On View
October 21 – November 22, 2020
New York

In conversing with the Dutch painter Tjebbe Beekman about his upcoming exhibition at Grimm, it seemed to me that it mattered as an introduction to his work:

He says he has spent “the last 25 years, just about, in dirty rooms with loud music on,” and how that “impacts what he does just as surely as the political climate” and his actual living place,

The studio where I work now is around 160 square meters. The studio is for an artist [painter] like me of course one of the most sacred and important places there is, at the border of Amsterdam in a nature park overlooking a lake and we live on a houseboat in the center of the city.

I’ve divided the place into a dirty room (very much the studio cell that is exemplary for an artist studio only now with a lake view) and a clean room where I can finish the paintings in a more home-like or gallery-like atmosphere where we grow plants, I have my record collection and book collection to choose from, and we built in a kitchen and shower, etc.

So different from his studio in Berlin, “overlooking the biggest prison for political opponents in Berlin GDR time.” And the light in Berlin had been so different:

Josef Beuys once said that the light in the Netherlands is so hard and therefore the colors [are] so bright due to the fact that we have so much water in the Netherlands and the reflection of the sun on it against the clouds.

In Berlin the light was way more dimmed and filtered and because it lies very near the time zone boundary it is dark very early there. In the winter around 15:00 [it’s dark] already on some days which is very hard and depressing.

Actually New York light reminds me of Dutch light! As it did my fellow Dutchman Willem de Kooning I think when he painted Rosy Fingered Dawn at Louse Point in 1963, a painting that I really love and went to see almost daily for a while when I came back to the Netherlands just to get a grip on what I wanted to paint here in terms of light, subject, etc. The change in my color palette the last couple of years actually came very gradually and I think it has a lot to do with Dutch light, or at least I'd like to tell myself that.

In Berlin I was in a studio building with a lot of like-minded artists and with two of them I had the special relationship where we did lunch together most of the days in each others’ studios and discussed the works and ideas we were working on. This was a really productive relationship for all of us but maybe not meant to last.

I am in the lucky situation that I can always reflect ideas and work with my wife who is also trained as an artist and works along with me in the studio.

If I look at the development my work has made over the years you can see that I am slowly moving from the outside (exterior) to the inside (interior) and now the paintings have moved into the space in my head.

Left: Tjebbe Beekman, <em>Avaritia</em>, 2020. Right: <em>Ira</em>, 2020. Acrylic, sand, and plaster on canvas mounted to wood panels, 32 1/2 x 25 3/8 inches each. Courtesy the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York.
Left: Tjebbe Beekman, Avaritia, 2020. Right: Ira, 2020. Acrylic, sand, and plaster on canvas mounted to wood panels, 32 1/2 x 25 3/8 inches each. Courtesy the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York.

We are looking at his great paintings of 2019, with their garlands and drums and death heads, like a festival and yet with a menace lurking beneath. This is certainly part of the idea of symbiosis, as some are entitled, as contraries and unlikes meet, and so many painters are referred to: Hockney and Basquiat and Johns and Rauschenberg.

I need(ed) these artists because they stand for a certain time etc.; this besides the fact that the paintings (foremost the symbiosis paintings) are also a declaration of my love for these artists, art in general.

For instance the “Picasso/Beckmann” series is made of imagery from works of theirs that mostly reflect the interbellum.

The garlands were introduced in the painting Hold that thought! (2017) and they probably partly reflect my cynicism about what is going on politically. I do not know if you have this saying in the English language but in Dutch we say: “Dancing on the edge of the volcano.”

That painting also reflects another element that was necessary in changing my imagery and that was jazz and foremost the music of John Coltrane (combined with bits of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Kamasi Washington).

I needed that to get my head into some sort of abstract modus or some freedom and rhythm in the composition that I couldn't allow myself to do before.

I ask about the series at Grimm of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” pointing out that the sin I least love is sloth, the very word sounding so unpoetic.

And then we talk of place again, and of David Hockney, returning to England and doing landscape painting, so much not what Tjebbe is doing, and not that conceptual act either.

That’s why elements of his work are depicted in the Avaritia (2020) painting in the “Seven Deadly Sins” series at Grimm.

It’s meant as a very positive painting and honors Hockney’s greediness for life. The man celebrates landscape, light, painting, everything with such eagerness and envious enthusiasm, I can only honor that, take a deep bow, and tip my hat at the same time!

And, relevant to my sense of his being a deeply poetic painter, to which I eluded, finally:

Poetry is something that came back with moving back to the Netherlands. I like to read some during the working day to emphasize an ambiance that I'd like to be in the painting the same as music can do but on another level of consciousness I guess.

Yes, this is a deeply poetic painter.


Mary Ann Caws

Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her many areas of interest in 20th-century avant-garde literature and art include Surrealism, poets René Char and André Breton, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, and artists Robert Motherwell, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso. Conceptually, one of her primary themes has been the relationship between image and text.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

All Issues