No one more free
Anthon Beeke’s work does not try to be beautiful, but aims to dislocate. It appeals or disgusts, confuses or welcomes and is always a prime example of powerful communication. But when I was studying, I didn’t yet know that.
I only came across his work after I completed my studies, during my work placement in Eindhoven. In the street. In the city it was quite impossible to avoid the posters that he made for Globe Theater. I thought they were very impressive. They even persuaded me get on my bike. I wanted to find out why they got to me. And then I immediately saw that the name of the designer was included, under the poster, neatly centered. As a brand. I had never previously seen a poster so self-assuredly signed. As if the designer thought: ‘I did my best for you and so I can use a small part of the poster for my own advertisement.’ Not hidden in an unreadable font in the margin, but a beautifully designed visualization of his name. You have to be pretty convinced of yourself and your work, I thought.
In the years that followed, I came across his name with increasing regularity and started to focus more on it and later I even went looking for it actively. There’s always something special to experience in an expression by Anthon Beeke. It is always eloquent with minimal means. As a powerful communicator, he directly lets you feel the underlying thought instead of choosing for safer work that’s easier to digester. Whether it is the beautiful poster for a Jeff Koons exhibition in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, the ‘Aids – The Killing Bite of Love’ poster, or a book cover with a matchbox stuck on it: an Anthon Beeke is always striking. His work screams for attention and plays with various emotions. Irritation, excitement, sorrow, surprise, shock, joy, fear; every time he evokes something in you. I can’t just pass it by. Even if it occasionally makes me feel slightly ill at ease. Possibly precisely because of that.
What often serves to make Anthon’s work even more communicative than that of many colleagues is that his designs try not to look like graphic design. He repeatedly seeks inspiration outside his own field and then launches it within it. Anthon Beeke is a master in playing with contexts, as a result of which he allows the new substance to emerge from putting together shapes and images. And like no other, he manages to penetrate to the core of an idea. Brilliant simplicity in a field filled with smooth talkers.
As a communicator, he will never choose the easy way by copying what other designers do, and I mean never. His visual language is original and progressive and is not dictated by existing opinions, but primarily emerges, to my mind, from pure intuition. It’s also difficult to compartmentalize it. The work is too versatile for that. As a designer, I think that Anthon has designed just about everything that can be designed. From games, books, and alphabet and posters to matchboxes, calendars etc., etc. In addition, he really uses every possible technique. For instance, Anthon Beeke can photograph, cut, paste, sketch and tear. And design, of course. I don’t know a single maker of images who thinks more freely and is more all-round than Anthon. As far as I am concerned, he is the freest bird in Dutch design history.
text Erik Kessels
photo Anthon Beeke als Japanse vlag
2000, photographed by Arjan Benning