Whitehot Magazine

Tjebbe Beekman: Tetris at Grimm

Tjebbe Beekman, To pray for the living and the dead, 2022. Acrylic, acrylic emulsions, sand and grit on canvas mounted to wood panel, framed. 31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM. Photography: Jonathan de Waart.

Tjebbe BeekmanTetris         

Grimm Gallery         

October 21 through November 12, 2022 

By MARY HRBACEK, October 2022

Grimm presents “Tetris,” an exhibition of seventeen new acrylic and acrylic emulsion paintings by Dutch artist Tjebbe Beekman.  In Beekman’s deeply felt and strongly envisioned images, the components and fragments function as indefinable players in what can be described as confounding theatrical productions; they immediately impress the viewer with their powerful symbolic meaning.  The title of the exhibition lends insights into Beekman’s artistic intentions. “Tetris” is defined as an “endeavor involving rearranging things of a different shape into physical space.” 

Beekman excels at making visually convincing painted “collage” details. The interconnecting dystopian elements read as layers of expressive recognizable objects such as cloth, balls, rope, pieces of wood, trays and sticks to name but a few, whose relationships to each other seem unfathomable. They convey deeply intriguing yet puzzling undefined messages. The variety of textures, colors, unspecified articles and entities grip the viewer in a psychic drama presented in many of the works, in the pictorial space of a Picasso collage or Synthetic Cubist still life. The shallow arena appears to be constructed of overlapping items that might have been dredged from a cellar, woodshed or attic trunk. 

The works on view with their attendant narrative titles, give the impression that they relate personally to the artist’s psychic and emotional states of consciousness.  These pieces have underpinnings in Old Master compositions; Poussin comes to mind. They have no pop culture references beyond the 1980’s arcade video game entitled “Tetris.” Playing this game is said to thicken the cortex and possibly increase brain competence. The painting actually entitled “Tetris” integrates unrelated strata of abstract and figurative items, which may symbolize the chaos in which we live in the world.  Arranging ultra-complex configurations woven within pictorial structures probably provides relief for distressing emotional experiences. Art-making can be a constructive venue for exploring feelings and venting emotions directed at the charged episodes that cling inexorably in our consciousness.  

Tjebbe Beekman, And I don't want to live with somebody's depression, 2022. Acrylic, acrylic emulsions, sand and grit on canvas mounted to wood panel, framed, 59 x 41 7/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM. Photography: Jonathan de Waart.

The titles reveal a process in which the artist is evolving towards change. “To Bear Wrongs Patiently,” “To Forgive All Injuries,” “And I Don’t Want to Live with Somebody’s Depression,” indicate his struggle to free himself through the art-making process, from the kind of traps that linger and cast murkiness over one’s well-being. There is a strong didactic message in the show, seen in the titles that instruct on the proper way to live. “To Pray for the Living and the Dead,” “To Forgive all Injuries,” “To Council the Doubtful,” “To Instruct the Ignorant,” “To Comfort the Sorrowful,” all seem to indicate the ‘principled way’ to follow in a spiritual belief system. The images themselves present recognizable but unrelated, stunningly articulated elements and materials.  One can barely, if at all, fathom how these narrative phrases in the titles connect with the visual imagery. Nonetheless, they help to establish the somber, thoughtful mood of the exhibition. 

The palettes in these pictures are both rich and solemn; the surfaces can be satiny smooth or scarred with deep cut marks.  There is a strong collage component to many works, such as “To Instruct the Ignorant,” which adds variation and distinction to the body of works.  The Picasso inspired collage form of the piece “To Bear Wrongs Patiently” makes a macabre reference to a possible harrowing death and unsavory afterlife.  Unseen but felt religious beliefs infuse the works with resolution that enriches the depth of the compositions. In “Nocturnal Revelation,” beautifully painted pieces of cloth, perhaps symbolizing the self, flow together with fragments of a cut-up sunset landscape scene, suggesting that nature’s grandeur cannot alleviate the remnants of a bygone trauma. “And I Don’t Want to Live With Someone Else’s Depression” articulates a stunning vision of unexpected psychic torment in which the identity of a human figure, confined in a golden cage, is concealed by rich red, blue, and red and gold striped fabrics. The embellished trappings infuse the image with the hope which life’s exquisite beauty symbolizes.  

Tjebbe Beekman, The Miraculous Draught, 2022. Acrylic, acrylic emulsions, sand and grit on canvas mounted to wood panel, framed. 52 3/8 x 39 3/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM. Photography: Jonathan de Waart.

The piece entitled “The Miraculous Drought” diverges from the collage-based still life works, with a storm setting in which four human figures reach dramatically into a trough to collect water, amongst a barrage of flying debris.  A desperate peacock, the flamboyant bird that symbolizes personal vanity, cranes its neck to beg for water, verifying that human and animal needs intersect. In a mesmerizing display of nature’s chaotic powers, the debris blows wildly across the top of the format signaling an apocalyptic natural disaster which pits us not only against nature, but against each other.  It seems the artist is striving to reconcile life’s struggles with its rewards.  

The various collage-like and cubistic spaces seem to express their own particular emotional conundrums disguised within the undefined forms presented.  “To Pray for the Living and the Dead” hints at aquatic looking shapes that seem to intersect a black empty area that conceivably signifies the “self.”  Sensory stimulation gives a certain distraction and pleasure to life, when conflicts and unresolved relationships, especially from the past, become intolerable to bear.  

The artist’s superb technical mastery of the medium comprises a striking underlying message that permeates this mesmerizing body of works. With images whose underpinnings in the old and new masters are articulated by honed elements with deeply saturated hues, few art shows today are more serious or more engulfing. WM


Mary Hrbacek

Mary Hrbacek is an artist who has been writing about art in New York City since the late 1990s. She has had more than one hundred reviews published in The M Magazine/The New York Art World, and has written in print and on-line NY Artbeat.com, Artes Magazine, d’Art InternationalCulture Catch.com and Whitehot Magazine. Her commentary spans a broad spectrum, from the contemporary cutting-edge to the Old Masters. 

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