Jan de Beus
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The Passionate Forces of Colour

The Passionate Forces of Colour
The Paintings of Jan de Beus

The powerful and expressive paintings of the Dutch artist Jan de Beus confront the viewer with their dynamic and unlimited vitality. The viewer is not only moved by the directness of the colours that radiate so intensely and put him under their spell, he is also pulled into a colour space and a world of images that is perceptibly defined by the intrinsic qualities of colours and a liberated gesticular and expressive style of painting.

The colour masses are applied thickly. And the powerful gestures never allow a static effect. Whether Jan de Beus paints figuratively or abstract, his colours intertwine organically to create an exciting and passionately moving surface. And although De Beus limits his choice of themes – human figures, interiors and landscapes – we see in the enormous image potential that his primary subject "man and nature" keeps challenging the artist by way of his research into colour. This exploration is sublimated in the oeuvre of Jan de Beus in reflections and the change of artistic perspective through which new periods develope and ever-changing insights lead to innovative qualities in painting.

At first De Beus’ paintings fascinate primarily through their refined coloration and their expressive use of paint. The colour streams that can be clearly identified as dynamic brush strokes, appear as immediate traces of liberated energy. That is why the art of Jan de Beus may, above all, be seen as a passionate painterly event. The artistic development of this painter is closely connected to the evaluation of possibilities, effects and dynamics of colour using the image repertoire of art.

Asked for his sources of inspiration from the old masters Jan de Beus mentions Tizian and Rembrandt as pioneers of a free and already pastose style of painting and places himself in the line of this tradition. A powerful example for him is his compatriot Van Gogh who also focused on the intrinsic dynamics of colour and found them even more important than form. But also the passion in brush stroke and use of colour and the atmospheric intensity of the paintings of the German impressionist Lovis Corinth are closely related to his own artistic approach. And close, of course, is the central figure of abstract expressionism, the American painter Willem de Kooning. But he feels a very special artistic proximity to the French painter Eugène Leroy who made an unprecedented contribution to the art of pastose layer painting and to the discussion on figurative and abstract painting. (1)

In the eighties Jan de Beus was in contact in Berlin with the so-called „Wild Painting“ of the Berlin scene and their protaganists Karl Hödicke, Bernd Zimmer, Helmut Middendorf, Salomé and Rainer Fetting. The confrontation with Berlin’s wild scene and their painting euphoria may have enforced the spontaneous-gesticular and emotional element in the painting of Jan de Beus. But with all due respect to, and admiration of, the "Neuen Wilden" the Dutchman gradually moves away from them in the nineties. He is not a painter rebel who wants to break with traditional conventions and he does not wish to develope a mannerism. He is looking for a very own position , the main features of which start to become evident during this time.

The basis of this painting is the material aspect of colours. The way paint is applied thickly and in layers and so dynamically intensified to create an atmospheric and dense picture space that gives the viewer the impression that the paintings surpass the limits of the canvas, soon becomes characteristic of his work In addition he has left the complex themes of the "Neuen Wilden" behind and focuses on the classical and elementary subjects of man and nature.

His painting experiments are now entirely dedicated to colour. As Vincent van Gogh before him, De Beus feels that pure colour has an expressive quality of it’s own.At first his work is situated somewhere between the figurative and purely abstract. He experiments a lot and is interested in contacts with other artists. He starts new friendships and makes contact with artists who prefer pastose painting techniques like himself; Michael Toenges in Cologne, Matthias Lutzeyer in Stuttgart, Bernd Schwarting in Berlin and Michael Ramsauer in Oldenburg.

Jan de Beus does not only liberate himself from the figurative but also from the multi-tonal use of colours. “But I will still stay open on all levels“, said the painter during an interview with the then chief of feuilleton of the Neue Osnabr¸cker Zeitung, Wendelin Zimmer, on the occasion of a solo exhibition in Osnabrück. He mentions that he will stay open to inspiration beyond fine arts, for example through music (Wagner, Brahms), literature (Novalis, Joyce, Proust, Döblin). “He is looking for inspiration, underlines De Beus, that excites him so much that it sends a shiver down his spine.Some of it will flow into his paintings as movement.“ (2)

In the artist’s figurative work nude painting plays a central role. Women have posed for Jan de Beus. Women like "Grit" or "Philomena' (Fig. P. 26, 27, 30, 31). But the models don’t appear as individuals. The painter transforms the nudes with a dynamic expansive movement into compositions in which figurative and non-figurative elements are blended and almost indistinguishable.

Here again the process of reduction: in the flow of colours and in the pastose process of layering, the human figure gradually becomes imperceptible to the viewer. It almost dissolves into the organic and dynamic field of colour. Just as the figure appeared on the surface from seemingly nowhere, it now retreats. It melts into the colours. Finally it is only a vague outline, a trace of memory. As such it becomes a chiffre – half buried, half sedimented in the colour mass –
a timeless sign. The outside visual movement that is offered to the viewer of these colour worlds also generates an inner motion - melancholy for example, because this last sign of congealed memory is a lasting chiffre of an experience, a moment, of a past closeness and almost forgotten intimacy. It is a testimony of distance and detachment and manifests the loss of attachment of the time.

That Jan de Beus is influenced by city experience as well as elementary nature experience, has to do with the fact that the artist commutes between the pulsating metropolis of Amsterdam and the contemplative Muiderberg, only 20 kilometers apart. He was born in Muiderberg, a small village, centre of the landscape Het Gooi. This beautiful and wooded landscape near the IJsselmeer has fascinated many artists before him. Jan de Beus has studied these artists. Paintings of Muiderberg, therefore, not only developed freely and in direct contemplation but are also inspired by paintings by old masters of Dutch landscape painting: by Jacob van Ruysdael (1628-1682) for example, a painter of the so-called "Golden Age" or by a painter of the late romantic period Anthonie Waldorp (1803-1866) (Fig. P. 14, 20, 22, 24).

Through his individual and personal "transformation" of the paintings of old masters Jan de Beus succeeds in thoroughly
re-defining the landscape theme in art. "He transforms his village and the landscape with vehemently dynamic compositions with pastose application of colour and spontaneous wild brush stroke", writes Wendelin Zimmer (4).
But, more than this, Jan de Beus liberates the originals of the old masters from an idyllic and romantic-idealising viewpoint with a fresh and spontaneous brush stroke by simply representing that which moved and enthralled him and unleashing the vitality and energy of the colours. The new depictions have left the obvious and illustrative of the paintings of Ruysdael and Waldorp behind. In the work of Jan de Beus the unleashed forces of nature in a space-enveloping, fast and atmospheric situation become the central focus. Turbulently dramatic, spirited and overflowing are these landscape impressions and they pull the viewer into the orgiastic structure of energy and tension that is nature.

Whatever De Beus uses as a model – a nude, an interior, a landscape or a painting by an old master – in his lust for painting everything takes a sensual-visual form. Passion, motion, speed, energy - are the composits that define the compositions.

During the course of a process of serial paintings in which De Beus searches for ever new enhancement of expression through colour and form, figurative elements have moved to the background. And because Jan de Beus constantly developes processes of abstraction further, his central themes have dissolved into abstract painting- at first into a kind of written style of painting (Fig. P. 28, 29) and then into pure colour painting that, starting in 2003 with a cyclic phase of small canvases, finally comes close to the style principles of monochrome painting.

A series of expressive-monochrome colour canvases developed during the latest work period. These often concentrate on one colour or at least on a combination of very few colours (Fig. P. 2-12, 36-53). In these works Jan de Beus activates the surface through a relief-like way of painting which utilises all possibilities of the pastose technique. Everything that interests De Beus –vitality, drama, movement – manifests itself here, completely without the figurative. De Beus layers colours, introduces rhythm and energy into the paintings through streaky surfaces and concentrates entirely on the consistent use of his palette. Jan de Beus finally enhances the drama of the lively colour scheme with the effect of light and dark. A new dimension is added to De Beus’ oeuvre- the realisation of an abstract-atmospheric yet monochrome canvas created entirely from one colour.

It is not surprising that Jan de Beus refers to the inspiration by the strictly constructivist American artist Ad Reinhardt when talking about this most recent phase of his development. The results of his own experiments (which De Beus no longer titles but only numbers) obviously spring from a similarly strict progressive attitude.

Jan de Beus takes the viewer with him into the experience of the life of a painter – into his vision of art, into his interaction with art history, into his view of the world and his passionate confrontation with life. Tradition and innovation interweave. De Beus’ paintings must be seen in a context of universal co-relations. His works on body, space and identity are situated between inside and outside world. They show the vulnerability of existence and testify to mental conditions. And more has found it’s way into this imagery: private memories, loss and forlorness, the no longer accessible und no longer tangible and the sadness and wistfulness which all this brings about.

André Lindhorst
Head of the Kunsthalle Dominikanerkirche in Osnabrück

1 Robert Fleck, Licht und Farbe, Erlangen, Oberhand, in: art 1997, P. 94 f.
2-4 Wendelin Zimmer in, „Jan de Beus, Malerei 2002-2004“, Osnabr¸ck 2004