Jan Beekman was born in Meise, a township close to Brussels, the capital of Belgium, in 1929. He studied painting at the Brussels Academy for Fine Arts. After a period in which he was more politically than artistically involved, his inclusive view of art stimulated him to start working as a free-lance scenographer at the end of the fifties, first in the drama section of the newly founded National Belgian Television station BRT, and soon thereafter in some of the major theatres in Brussels and the Flemish region, such as the Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) and Beursschouwburg, both in Brussels, and the Ghent based Arcatheater and Nationaal Theater Gent (NTG)
Beekman abandoned this activity in the mid-seventies, despite great acclaim, because it had become too much of a full time occupation. From then on he devoted himself to teaching and what had always been his greatest passion, painting. His first exhibitions had already come at the beginning of the sixties, with one-man shows at Galerie Zodiaque, at that time the gathering place for anything contemporary in the Brussels art scene, and with his participation in the first group shows of the latest experimental movement in Flanders, the constructivist G-58.
While Beekman always remained aware of the range of modernist movements that succeeded each other in the preceding and following decades – from abstract expressionism and constructivist, over Pop, to minimalism, conceptualism, etcetera- he steadily continued to pursue his own development. The study of nature stood central to this, but never led him to realistic representation. His mental landscapes rather take the shape of abstract meditations that question and reflect the steering forces behind what is visible to the naked eye, their rhythm and dynamics, musicality, geometry, patterns and colouring.
Holding on on to these principles, Beekman’s work went through great changes over the decades. The places where he lived and worked have been a major influence on this: first the Land van Waas and the Westhoek, at that time still unspoiled countryside regions in the lowlands of Flanders, and later the United States, where he decided to stay in the mid-eighties, after he had been invited to be an artist in residence at the University of Michigan. Chicago served as his first home base, from which he made numerous trips to the South West and elsewhere in the US, but in 1997 Beekman moved East, away from city life, to rural Connecticut, where he still lives with his wife Gillian Lane-Plescia in the middle of a forest that still serves him as the main source of his inspiration.
As a critic described his work of that last period: „ There are the grays, browns and muted yellows of the winter woods outside his home near the Preston-Ledyard town line. There are the sweeps of earthy reds from the buttes of the Southwest and repeated dabs of inky green and blue that suggest a bubbling, springtime river in New England.“ But that the scope of Beekman’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings reaches much further than a gratuit play with colours, might already be indicated by the fact that his latest series, which is also the main theme of this one-man show at the Beekman Foundation, heavily criticized Donald Trump and his presidential policy, more in particular his denial of Global Warming.
To those who are only vaguely familiar with his work, it may also seem ironic that one of the few portraits which Beekman painted, and which hangs prominently in the UN-headquarters, Portrayal of Nelson Mandela, Liberated, has become his best known work. And yet the portrait – of which a silk-screen print was especially made for this exhibition - is perfectly in accordance with his more abstract paintings and sculptures. From the very start, an intense social engagement was part of his love of nature, while his work kept raising questions on the way in which we manipulate and pollute its resources. On top of that, Beekman also tried to capture with his portrait that very moment when Mandela, after 27 years of incarceration, literally stepped from darkness into the light. It is therefore also a perfect illustration of what differentiates masterpieces from other paintings since day one, and of what has been characterising the landscapes of this peintre pur sang: the capturing of these moments of epiphany, in which light reshapes the dark, and grants the unseen visibility.