From Beyoncé to Benjamin

A visit to Paul Beumer’s studio

by Julia Geerlings

On a typically rainy Dutch day in February I am meeting with Paul Beumer in his studio at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. One of the first things I notice is the music coming from his laptop. I hear the unmistakably strong and emotive voice of none other than pop diva Beyoncé. Oh yes, we are dealing with a fan here.

Beumer pours me a glass of wine and explains enthusiastically that he likes to listen to Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Katy Perry and other pop divas while working in his studio. He explains that their powerful and universal songs get him in the right mood and provide him with physical energy. They form a neutral, undemanding but nevertheless energising working atmosphere.

Beumer considers himself a romantic soul in line with German romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich. When he was still living in The Hague he liked to wake up early and cycle to the beach for a swim. He enjoyed these quiet moments by himself and found the colours of the sky and the sea at sunrise to be sensational. While working on his paintings he always has a landscape in mind, but it is never an exact image of a real landscape. It’s more of an abstract memory of a landscape or a survey of a natural surface. In one of his recent paintings he for example uses thick layers of paint in an array of blue and red, which slightly give the impression of a sunset. This impression is further enhanced by the depiction of a small moon in the upper left hand corner of the canvas, although this ‘moon’ could just as well be considered an abstract circular form. This balancing between figuration and abstraction is distinctive of Beumer’s current artistic practice.

Beumer sees his paintings as archaeological digs, which immediately makes me think of Walter Benjamin’s text Excavation and Memory (1932); ‘Language has unmistakably made plain that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past, but rather a medium. It is the medium of that which is experienced, just as the earth is the medium in which ancient cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.’ Paul can easily relate to this text and explains that a process of quarrying in memory, emotion and material precedes any finished painting. He works on his paintings without knowing in advance how they will turn out. Just like in Benjamin’s text he conducts himself as a man digging into his own past. The sea near The Hague is therefore one of the recurring themes in his work, be it on a very abstract level. In a way he works like a reverse archaeologist: instead of digging in the soil he is adding layer upon layer to a canvas.

His practice consists of a continuous research into materials, surfaces, colours and the influence of light. He for example deploys glitter and sequins to enhance the effect of the light in his paintings. His paintings take shape the way a landscape is formed: he applies layers and blobs of paint and the works are finished when they have reached a state of self-confidence. Beumer compares it to the self-confidence of organic crystallizations of structures and compositions in nature. He shows me a cross section of a big blue mineral stone, which he keeps in his studio together with a couple of books about mineral stones. He also shows me a collection of books about Chinese and Japanese painting. He finds inspiration in the contingencies and imperfections in Asian art. I tell him I have always had a fascination with Kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold. I find it poetic that by filling the cracks of the broken objects with gold you focus on the imperfections rather than disguise them. In his work process Paul also makes ‘mistakes’. He often repaints a canvas, applies violent force to it by scratching it or turns it upside down.

Beumer’s work definitely has a sense of aggressiveness to it. He even describes the painting of the sunset as an ‘aggressive sunset’. The same can be said of a pastel pink painting, in which the upper half is decorated with thick layers of red paint. Beumer wanted to express a feeling of being in love in this work, but people interpret it more violently and see the red paint as blood, even though he himself had a more romantic image of flowers in mind. Still, Beumer likes the fact that his paintings evoke different emotions and can upset the viewer as well. He tells me an anecdote about Mark Rothko, who accepted a commission to paint a series of works for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York in 1958 Even though Rothko accepted the commission he secretly envisioned creating ‘something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room’.

Beumer’s paintings are normally 110 centimetres wide and 140 centimetres high, but he clearly expresses the wish to go larger. He shows me a work in progress that measures 210 by 240 centimetres. The work consists of thick layers of purple and blue paint, and resembles a stony landscape. The larger size makes for an even more intense experience. It feels like I am being sucked into the painting and drawn into an otherworldly landscape. Although it would be more obvious to paint a ‘landscape’ on a horizontally sized canvas, the vertical format is far more challenging for both the artist and the viewer. Beumer does not give his paintings any titles, which could refer to any supposed content. He simply names them after the materials they are made from: for example Oil on canvas or Oil and glitter on canvas.

As a resident of the Rijksakademie, Beumer is very appreciative by the possibility to focus primarily on his work. He came to the Rijksakademie last year with the idea to research and experiment within the medium of the painting. He feels he succeeded with the help of the many conversations he had with the advisors from the Rijksakademie and the other residents. Previous to the Rijksakademie he made bright-coloured collages of paint, photographs and textile with a lot of historical and political references. His work is now more abstract and personal. Some painters who attend the Rijksakademie experiment with other media besides painting in their work. But Beumer believes not everything is said and done within painting.

He is fond of the traditions in painting and it helps him to determine his place as a painter. He specifically does not relate to artists who respond to the digital era in any form in their practice. Due to the long history of painting he believes that the audience is accustomed to look at paintings. This can be seen as a weakness, but Beumer thinks this is also one of the strengths of painting. He believes that the viewer of his paintings is not distracted by the form or medium so that the viewer can focus directly on the painted surface and search for the intention of the painting. Beumer sees art as an important role in our contemporary society, because he sees art as a platform for freedom where different languages can and may come together.

In this magazine you will find photographed pieces of painted paper and materials, which Paul uses as research to create a painted image. One of these papers is painted bronze and photographed with a flash. The surface of the paper is literally ‘highlighted’ by this action, which gives the surface a distinctive depth. The research material is exemplary for Pauls working practice, which focus on the surface and the reflection of light. It’s important for Beumer that the viewer takes his or her time to observe his paintings. While you are interpreting or unravelling the images in the magazine try to listen to Beyoncé and I think you will come close to what Beumer had in mind.


You Are Cordially Invited #2
The Audacious Issue

You Are Cordially Invited‘s second issue is AUDACIOUS, showing a selection of artists who are cheeky, bold, daring and rough-and-ready. Artists who push their boundaries to achieve the results they deem necessary to portray their views of the world. What connects their practices is a sense of theatricality, a love of staging, thereby either putting themselves or the viewer centre stage.

The Group Show
The Group Show curated by Jaring Dürst Britt & Alexander Mayhew shows a selection of exhibitions that seamlessly blend into each other, like a revolving stage: with Alex da Corte, Than Hussein Clark, Brice Dellsperger, Julien Ceccaldi, Sol Calero, Patrizio Di Massimo, Eddie Peake, Rachel Maclean, Ryan McNamara, Jacolby Satterwhite, Ella Kruglyanskaya, Celia Hempton, Sarah & Charles, Mary Reid Kelley and Donna Huanca.

A photoshoot of artist Melanie Bonajo’s happening Qu’est-ce que c’est? at pop temple Paradiso in Amsterdam, where various artists’ bands performed in outrageous outfits. Melanie Bonajo is interviewed by Irene de Craen about her artistic practice, which focuses on gender, our relationship with nature and spirituality. With Mariechen Danz & UNMAP, ZaZaZoZo, Burning fire, Josefine Arnell & Michele Rizzo, La Chatte, echo+seashell and Baba Electronica. Voice over by Bart de Baets.

The Solo Show
For this issue young artist Paul Beumer photographed pieces of various painted surfaces, which give an insight into his research focusing on surfaces and their reaction to light. He is interviewed by Julia Geerlings about his work, which engages in an open-ended dialogue with the history of abstract painting, while simultaneously investigating notions of romanticism, spirituality and even kitsch.