Anthon Beeke, Provocateur
Anthon’s provocateur roots can be traced back to the 1960’s during his association with Fluxus, a neo-Dada movement dedicated to artistic manifestations such as avant-garde poetry, happenings, and performance art. His involvement with this group undoubtedly affected his approach to poster design and theatrical interests. Through his use of paradox, he consistently challenges our sensibilities; he astounds, agitates, perplexes, and places demands upon viewers instead of allowing them to be submissive spectators.
One of his most contentious, provocative, disquieting, and misunderstood pieces is the 1980 poster for Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, once causing a show of his work at North Carolina State University to be cancelled because this poster was deemed too outrageous for the audience. A woman’s buttock becomes that of a harnessed horse, but instead of being a statement about pornography, as many thought, it was actually a poster in support of the women’s movement at that time, although addressing the subject in an abstruse manner.
In Haar leven, haar doden (Her Lives, Her Deaths) (1997), a play by Martin Crimp concerning image building and the power of the media, the frontal portion of a female nude forms the central motif. Death is implied by an automatic pistol inserted into her panties, while a fetus freely drawn on her stomach with lipstick represents life. The seemingly innocent drawing contrasts sharply with the gun and its overt phallic implications.
In Bierkaai (Losing Battle) (1997), a drama based on Cervantes’s Don Quixote, the viewer is confronted by a man’s bleeding and sweaty face, not one of a befuddled ‘Ingenious Gentleman’ attacking windmills, but instead the tortured countenance of the Biblical Job. Its brutal imagery makes Bierkaai one of Anthon’s more disconcerting works.
The poster for George Büchner’s Leonce and Leona (1979) features two masked faces preparing to kiss with protruding eager tongues. In the story, a young man and woman fall in love, but as in Romeo and Juliet, their families are sworn enemies. Banned from seeing one another, they separately wander about the world wearing disguises to remove themselves from the past. They eventually cross paths again, and although initially failing to recognize each other because of the masks, they fall in love again.
Anthon realises that a poster hanging in the street has to immediately draw attention, usually through the employment of a shock component. On a number of occasions his posters have produced complaints and derision and have been mutilated and ripped down. In the 1989 poster Ballet a naked man is depicted falling upside-down wearing an elaborate feather condom. This was widely spray-painted in the streets, prompting Anthon to create a subsequent poster using spray-paint as a medium. Displaying a rejection of social conformity and conventional values, his posters can often be blunt and coarse as in Andromache (1983) where the character defecates out of fright.
Anthon’s viewers are at times shocked by the deliberately blatant content, and there are few countries where his more provocative posters would be accepted in an urban setting. His success in communicating can to some extent be attributed to the generally receptive Amsterdam audience. However, I once commented to Anthon, “you have accomplished the impossible; you have even succeeded in shocking the Dutch.”
text Alston Purvis
photo Anthon Beeke arrested by the statue of ’t Lieverdje
1968, photographed by Cor Jaring