We went for a beer with Anthon after a photo shoot at the IJ Brewery in Amsterdam. It was a Friday afternoon in September and it was busy: a noisy mix of local office folk, students, tourists and locals celebrating the end of the week. A small black man not far off sixty came and stood beside us at the bar to order. The man looked tired and fragile. He wore a smart jacket, far too big for him with drooping shoulders and sleeves too long, well polished shoes that had seen better days and anonymous jeans. In everything about him, the man was signalling: don’t take any notice of me.
I saw Anthon look at the man. I saw him study him: his jacket, his posture, his appearance. A gaze that combined amused empathy and emotion. Briefly Anthon intensely loved this man. Then he focussed his attention on something else.
This man, with his oversized jacket, the essence of that image, might just later turn up in Anthon’s work. In the form of a portrait on a poster, in the finishing touch to a book, in which the white contents with refined design are wrapped in an oversized, crooked, incorrect cardboard cover. Or in a typographical exercise, hand-drawn with care and patience.
It’s an uncompromising approach, intuitive and cheeky in which work and life can’t be separated. That work can mean you travel vast distances and have many adventures without leaving your chair, just as that is possible in a good poem.
It took me years to find out what makes Anthon’s work so powerful: for me it is his capacity to look at people, to really look, and then get right inside them in his work. Whatever the theme or visual language, people plodding away remain his point of departure.
text Mariola López Mariño
photo Anthon Beeke