As a creative personality, Edward Bekkerman has developed along the lines of classical modernism. He creates and inhabits his own world. He does not regard matters of self-expression as an excuse for irony. He does not ask the public to play along with him or solve intellectual crosswords; what he demands is fully-fledged emotional contact. Even in his behavior, he adheres to the mythology of modernism (which the classics of modernism have themselves already broken, appearing in the role of newsmakers). He is a solitary artist, an individualist far removed from the professional environment and little concerned about public relations or his relationship with the establishment. While such a stance might be regarded as archaic, experience shows that it always incorporates great potential topicality. In Bekkerman’s case, it is wholly natural. His art is foreordained to be understood.
Edward Bekkerman started out as a sculptor, creating a memorable Surrealist-inclined plastic art. Extrovertive and with active silhouettes, it embodied a “shrieking” gestural expressiveness. This was followed by a period of painting. Equally expressive and extrovertive, Bekkerman’s painting is clearly rooted in the traditions of the European post-war decades and late modernism the aggressive imagery of Art Brut and the later visionariness of Francis Bacon, with its fine balance of grotesque figurativeness and the self-contained natural element of the color drama.
Bekkerman’s early painting – a series embracing many years which might be nominally called the Large Heads is contradictory. On the one hand, it was distinguished for its unruly and impulsive bursts of color, almost reminiscent of action painting. On the other hand, it was clearly rooted in tradition. This explains the presence of such conventional archetypes of the École de Paris as image-masks or, more accurately, such cultural codes as Pierrot, Harlequin or the old man in the bowler hat. There was something particularly expressive about this gaping contradiction between the elemental nature of his paintwork and the cultural and even literary connotations evoked by the aforementioned archetypes. Soon, however, the artist learnt to control the painterly element. The forms acquired structure, the simultaneous bursts of painting returned to their “banks” and the color vision was culturized (the large granules of color, refracting and passing the light through themselves, recall Georges Rouault’s stained-glass works). Bekkerman, however, avoids cultural associations. The Large Heads do not refer back to their original sources in modernist art; they are self-sufficient and self-contained. They are like totems exuding archaic energy. Gail Gelburd, one of the critics writing about the artist at that time, called them guardians.
In recent years, Edward Bekkerman has been working on a new series called Dreams. What is the relationship between this latest series and the artist’s previous cycles? This is no easy question. They are, of course, mutually linked. The natural element of painterliness still remains the constant component of Bekkerman’s oeuvre. Notwithstanding its elemental and impulsive exterior, it is not uncontrollable. The artist seems to draw a bridge through this natural element from almost abstract expressiveness to virtually figurative representationalism across which he freely moves. The very matter of the painterliness appears to have the same composition coloristics with gradations of warm and cold, the very style of painting (tactile, impetuous and harshly forceful) and the structural form-creation. I refer here to the organization of form. In the Large Heads, the form-creation recalls the stained- glass principle. The light passes through large granules of color, which help to “mould” the form.
The principle of the refraction of light through color is developed in Bekkerman’s latest series. The artist creates intricate structures conglomerations of ice or light-refractive minerals. The result is stalactites, stalagmites and karstic plateaux of color permeated with inner luminescence. Although externally spontaneous, elemental and impulsive, such form-creation is completely conscious and even, I would say, artistically functional. The artist consistently underlines the organic or structural aspect. This
approach has two foundations. The first proceeds from the idea that the visual images transmit dreams a product of definite structures of the mind while the accentuated structuralness of these images is a visual analogy of those innermost structures or a form of “architecture of dreams”. They are born of dreams, in their own image and likeness, quite literally albeit not reflectedly. The artist does not seek philosophical supports for his intentions. They adhere to the postulate of the great Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky that art is a dream in the flesh.
The second foundation of the organic aspect concerns the material aspect of this architecture of depicted dreams. This is like a materialization of the ancient metaphor of the crevices of the mind. Bekkerman depicts the crevices, caves and refuges. This is the habitat of the creatures inhabiting our dreams. Who are these creatures? The artist does not and cannot give a straight answer to this question. These creatures are, by definition, enigmatic. They occur with every artist who dares to directly address the subconsciousness. The famous German philosopher and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim claimed that the balance between the inner and outer, the organism and its surroundings, was created with the help of dreams.
The tragic conflict between the mind and the surroundings gives rise to a certain type of “inhabitant of dreams”. One recalls the classical definition of Francisco de Goya the sleep of reason produces monsters. Another type belongs to a consciousness living in harmony with itself and the surroundings. I prefer, however, not to attempt delving deeper into a direct interpretation of the images created by Edward Bekkerman. Reading dreams is a special, ancient profession, stretching from traditional shamanism to the different versions of modern psychoanalysis.
These images transmit a message wide open for interpretation. By definition, there cannot be anything concrete or “unsaid” here. I will merely note several, in my opinion, important characteristics of a general kind. The state of dreams is a transitional, borderline state uniting, in Pavel Florensky’s definition, both “shores” of life. Correspondingly, the images representing this state are, by definition, multi-layered. We see here both abstractions and formations of pure visibilities, in this case appearing distinctly as an analogy of the dream itself, which Rudolf Arnheim defines as “sensory damping”. In Bekkerman’s case, this is pure visibility, almost in the literal sense, as if it were washed or transparent. This is followed by forms still retaining memories of objectivity form- visions immaterially slipping away. Such visions are sometimes materialized in a quasi-objective form, acquiring an archaic, totem power. On top of this is laid a visualization of the images of the “other shore of the consciousness” images of objective reality in a quasi-graphic, media form. In several images of the “inhabitants of dreams” and their habitat, I see projections of all the genres of the technicalised and computerized worlds of fantasy all those empires and lords of the rings. And why not? The archaically dark, the alarmingly incognizable, the mytho-poetic and the modern-media live side by side in the mental projections of the modern artist. As does, perhaps most importantly, the childish our guarantee that the world he creates is vivid and metaphorical.
— Alexander D. Borovsky