Jan de Beus
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Painter between Figuration and Abstraction

Jan de Beus, Painter between Figuration and Abstraction
Paintings 2000-2006

The artist from Muiderberg, Jan de Beus, does not need a long introduction. During the eighties he belonged to a group of artists called „Die Jungen Wilden“, a trend in art that is generally supported by German artists but which also attracts some Dutch artists. After his period with this movement De Beus developed a very personal style. He states : „I am a classical painter“. His painting forms a continuation of old art traditions. He paints landscapes, portraits and nudes, some directly connected to classical art historical themes. In this context he creates a series of landscapes and city views with subjects such as Muiderberg, Berlin, Canterbury Cathedral and the church of Saint Andrews in Katwijk. His pastose and organic technique gives these works a characteristic identity. He also paints biblical scenes, such as the crucifixion of Christ; paintings in which the viewer is intensely confronted with suffering.

Artistic Development
At an early stage Jan de Beus realised that his ambition in life was to become a painter. As a young man he discovered the joys of creating a personal world with colours, shapes and lines.
He felt a strong connection to older artists, such as the British painter Leon Kossoff (*1926) known for his paintings of grey tonality with human figures that seem to have fled from the holocaust; the British painter of German origin Frank Auerbach (*1931) and EugËne Leroy (1910-2000). These are all artists who endeavour to discover new limits of colour and often apply paint in thick layers: "Exploiters of colour“.
The most recent inspirations come from works of artists who, like De Beus, are searching for the limits of painting. Artists like the German Günter Umberg (*1942) and the American Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) show De Beus new aspects, he is touched by their capacity to express the sublime.

Next to all these male sources of inspiration, the Spanish artist Angela de la Cruz (*1965) is a remarkable colleague. Her works are rather collages than paintings and have titles such as "Flop, "Minimum", and "Clutter Bag". Among other things she makes monochrome and double canvases. De Beus observes her development and recognises much of his own research in her work. But also classical modern painters like the Frenchman Pierre Soulages (*1919 ) and Kazemir Malevich (1878-1935) with his famous "Black Square" of 1914/15 are still relevant for De Beus and in his recent work this painting plays an important role.

Sources of Inspiration
Jan de Beus is not only inspired by classical painters (Tizian, Kokoschka, Corinth) but also by poets (Achterberg, Nerval) and composers (Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner). De Beus has great interest in all forms of culture and likes to preoccupy himself intensely with literature and music. What he discovers in classical traditions touches him in a way that sends a shiver down his spine and he tries to bring this emotion and excitement across through his use of colour. His paintings vibrate and this vibration has a lasting effect on the viewer.
During the last few years he returned to live in the house in Muiderberg where he was born. His studio is out in the field and is a universe of it’s own in which De Beus creates his paintings. His environment is an important source of inspiration. The landscape - around him but also intrinsically connected to him – regularly appears as theme of his paintings.

Development of the Monochrome Paintings
During his most recent period from 2001-2005 Jan de Beus has focused mainly on painting more or less monochrome canvases. These paintings are variations on a single colour, sometimes complimented by a contrasting colour, consisting of thick layers of paint and expressed in a very personal fashion. His application of paint is thick and shows a lot of structure. In this way his paintings are closely related to sculpture. These works form a "trait d’union" between two disciplines of art, painting and sculpture. In the way that Michelangelo freed his slave from marble, De Beus extracts colour from the material. He connects, in doing so, to the long tradition of the endeavour to liberate a work of art from the material –precisely by forming it from the material.
Through the thick pastose application, depending on the angle of light, the painting recurrently gives a different impression. If De Beus was looking for a synthesis of theme, shape and colour in his earlier works, now the powerful correspondence of colour and structure has become his subject.

Theme of the monochrome paintings is the revitalisation of colour. Each painting gives colour a personal message, a new perspective, an infinite roaming in colour.
The last few years of the artistic development of De Beus are characterised by a kind of cleansing process. De Beus has limited himself and reduced his choice of colours. As an old saying goes: “In der Beschänkung zeigt sich der Meister“ (Reduction shows the master). By reduction he tries to discover new paths. De Beus put figurative themes aside for a few years but elements of landscape keep finding their way back into his paintings.
During this time De Beus often has periods in which he is not physically occupied with painting. Then the inner processes preoccupy him. His art developes inside like a ripening fruit. He builds up a reservoir. While he is not painting he reflects upon and analyses his occupation. Then the unavoidable moment occurs in which painting becomes an inevitable force. A creative drive developes, this grows and becomes the will to bring the ideas to life on canvas. According to De Beus, this magical moment in which he transforms the collection of visual concepts into something tangible, into oil on canvas, remains a mystery: the birth of a new work of art.

As an artist he developes a wide range of experiences but precisely the times of reflection and calm lead him to new discoveries. It is a kind of holy crusade, a Robinson Crusoe quest for the universal work of art.
For De Beus art is very emotional and this makes him a truly expressionistic painter. De Beus stills sees art as a vocation serving enthusiasm, a life-long quest. It is inevitable for him to search for new boundaries, to measure himself in time and space, to add to his own vocabulary and to the history of art.
De Beus knows that, in order to create something new he has to destroy something else. In this process he adopts a very natural attitude and so one painting leads to the next. The artist allows chance to play a role and , to a certain extent , lets the work of art take over.
Recent paintings are connected to previous works as well as to pieces that still have to be developed. Pure concentration on material, shape and colour is practised with great consistency. In the past De Beus has described his work as "intense painting with a romantic and narrative touch" but the monochrome paintings are different. They have numbers instead of titles and have developed away from the anecdotal towards the pure canvas.
The first series of black paintings (Untitled, 1-8, 2004, each 60 x 50 cm) developed from the idea of working with varying tones of black. But after the eigth painting colours start to reappear. The reduction to one colour feels too dogmatic and formalistic. Only the search is important for De Beus. That is why he hopes never to find the ultimate painting as that would be the end of all challenge.

Polyptych (2005)
De Beus limits the use of colour in his monochrome paintings. In his Polyptych (Untitled, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, each 200 x 60 cm) he chooses five long canvases, each consisting of one colour. These function as single paintings but reinforce each other when put in a context, thereby creating a new work of art. In his use of colour De Beus falls back on art historic tradition. For a long time scientists, artists and writers have tried to develope a philosophy or theory of colour and it’s application. Newton, Goethe (Theory of Colour, 1810), Charles Leadbeather and Wassily Kandinsky (The Spiritual in Art, 1911) play a prominent role in this research; they all put their ideas in writing.The theosophic artist Piet Mondriaan used primary colours to devise a new, clear organisation of the surface. De Beus takes over from here: he takes red, blue and yellow and developes new tones through layers in different colours. In addition he experiments with black and white and enrichens the canvas with intensity. Each colour has a different vibration, warm or cold, radiant or restrained.
By placing the purple canvas in the centre of the polyptych a calm focus is achieved. To the far right we see a cool lemon colour and to the left a warm cadmium yellow. The red canvas reinforces the cadmium yellow with warm intensity whereas the cooler colours are more prominent on the right side of the purple canvas.
If one compares this polyptych to a smaller one (Untitled. 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, each 60 x 30 cm) one notices a repetition of the colour rhythm. But here the colours blend much more, sometimes even „ton-sur-ton“, or a contrasting colour has been used. This creates a completely different effect. In the first polyptych discussed here there is a duality of warm and cold colours. This duality has disappeared. Through the addition of a yellowish orange to the right canvas this colour has an entirely different effect. The colour of the right canvas has been added to the left yellow-orange canvas. The contrast between left and right canvas is thereby diminished and a form of harmony achieved.

Black Monochrome Paintings (2004-2005)
Thick layers of oil paint in lamp black and charcoal black create a relief effect on the canvas that reminds one of the bronze reliefs in the Baptistry in Florence in which the Italian goldsmith and sculpter Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) depicted scenes from Paradise and the Fall from Grace. The reliefs of women’s backs by Henri Matisse in the Centre Pompidou in Paris also come to mind. The proximity to sculpture is most obvious in De Beus’ black monochrome paintings; paint is almost sculptured onto the canvas in for example Tryptych in Black (Untitled. 1, 2, 3, 2005, each 200 x 170 cm). In the abstraction of colour we can rediscover figurative elements in the layers of paint by using our imagination. Through the fluctuating effects of light we experience the tryptych differently every time we look at it. Light conditions (daylight or artificial) are of special signifance in viewing the black monochrome paintings. In the black paint we discover a wide range of dark tones, it is like a discovery journey into a black landscape. De Beus, like Dante Alighieri, makes a trip to hell, but through black, and then finally returns to colour.

Looking more closely at the purple monochrome painting (Untitled. 36, 2005 24 x 18 cm) we see that, very subtly, a further colour, magenta has been added. This gives the painting an intrinsic complexity although the canvas retains its dark character. Here are certain parallels to De Beus’ earlier landscape paintings. We see the same dynamics, the same brush stroke. By surpassing the limits of the canvas – the paint is also applied to the outside edges – the painting becomes more like an object. A new field of research, in between the traditional disciplines, developes. Where are the limits of painting and how do we move the boundaries to create space for an extended language of images? De Beus continues this development in his latest works by adding wooden objects and playing with lines in a new way.
De Beus makes monochrome paintings in various formats. The format influences the colour effect. A black canvas of 200 x 170 cm has a stronger presence than one of 24 x 18cm. The use of a larger canvas is also a colour statement. De Beus plays with this and shows his artistic competence by choosing a format that reinforces the effect he wants the colour to have. In earlier works we also see a slight preference for large formats as they most effectively bring across the expressiveness of his paintings.

Current Works (2006)
De Beus most recent work has titles again. And the favourite subject in his oeuvre, the landscape, has returned. The paintings have titles such as: "Painting for Malevich", "Nachtlied" (Night Song), "Malertod" (Death of a Painter) and "Landschap Muiderberg naar Rembrandt".
The landscapes of Muiderberg after Rembrandt are two paintings (each 90 x 115 cm) that are based on sepia drawings by Rembrandt. One shows the interior, the other an outside view of the ruins of the Muiderberger church. De Beus uses ivory black as the main colour. This tone mixed with prussian blue is the most intense. With cobalt blue directly out of the tube he subtly conjures up a landscape out of the black.
In the works that follow De Beus re-utilises elements of earlier paintings, such as "Painting for Roos" (1988, 200 x 150 cm) and the flemish landscapes of 1980. Here he adds pieces of wood and metal and parts of frames and stretchers. In his most recent works he again experiments with these materials. Especially interesting are the two works with the titles "Malertod". " Malertod I" (80 x 105 x 6 cm), well-balanced and in mostly light-brown tones, is quite different from "Malertod II" (95 x 135 x 8 cm) that shows a much more dramatic composition in shades of green. The calm balance of "Malertod I has completely disappeared in the second painting and the peaceful acceptance of the death of the artist becomes highly concentrated energy. Here a final battle is fought. In "Nachtlied" (105 x 220 x 12 cm) this theme is developed further; the stormy elements find a new calmness. The soul of the artist and person finds consolation in harmony and balance and comes to terms with beginning and end. "Painting for Malevich" (140 x 135 x 11 cm) is an hommage to this Russian innovator. Starting point is the painting of a black square of 1914/15, an almost mathematical work of art, concentrated on the essence. This highlight of abstract painting has preoccupied De Beus for quite a while and he processes this in his own way, with respect to the tradition of the artists before him."Landschap Muiderberg" (85 x 135 x 11 cm) finally shows De Beus’ usual style of landscape painting combined with pieces of frame. Blue and pink are used in this painting. The dark reflections of "Nachtlied" are not represented here, the painting a has a lighter character.
In recent years De Beus has followed a development which still lingers and deepens. Yet throughout his entire oeuvre we see a common factor that is so very characteristic for De Beus work: his brush stroke. We see the hand of the master who gives every painting he makes a special quality and in this way creates a totally unique work of art every time he does so.

Emke Clifford Kocq van Breugel
Art Historian