Artists We Love: Michael Beckurts

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES Supplied

Inspired by colour, human experience and the vibrancy of Cape Town city and nature that creates a strong juxtaposition of urban and organic, 22-year-old Michael Beckurts is making waves in the art scene. We chat with him about his latest exhibition and processes.

Michael Beckurts

Give us a bit of background about you and your life.

I am a 22-year-old Cape Town artist and I have been drawing and painting since my early childhood. Since graduating in March 2022 from the Cape Town Creative Academy, I have been a full-time artist. I have had 3 solo exhibitions: The first exhibition titled “Archives” was based on memory, and was held at the Test Kitchen in Woodstock in 2021. The second exhibition titled “Portraits of Nature, Portraits of Places”, was held at MOK Gallery on the Muratie wine estate near Stellenbosch. My current exhibition ‘Remember to Play” is currently at Openwine, Wale Street Cape Town.

Michael Beckurts

How do you choose a scene to paint?

I am constantly on the lookout for a subject which is why I always have a sketchbook with me. So when I see an interesting scene I can then make a little record of it. When one draws something small there is limited space- therefore one draws with fewer lines- the composition is intuitively simplified. What one does not draw is also important. Drawing small and on-site is a vital step to making a larger painting – as most of the time, the small intuitive compositions are spot-on.

Describe your art process and what you hope to achieve through your pieces

Every scene already has its own character and identity. What I attempt to achieve through my artwork is to understand the scene that I am painting by forming a connection to it. I engage with the scenes of my paintings by physically returning to the site repeatedly to intentionally observe or paint. In this way, the scene becomes the sitter and my painting becomes a portrait. 

Painting cannot be forced. There is a moment of recognition of the right scene. In that moment a sense of recognition streams towards me and I feel a state of harmony between my inner world and the outer world. After that, I return to the scene many times to build a deeper connection to it.

What inspires your work?

I am inspired by the textures, colours and structures found in nature. In my current body of artworks, I paint portraits of nature like fynbos along a contour path, and also nature in the Cape Town urban environment like the palm trees in Wale Street and the sheltering presence of the mountain viewed from Orange Street. 

Family gatherings, live music nights, and evening farm road walks have been the inspiration for many of my paintings. Fundamental to these scenes is the genuine feeling of human connection. These works draw on memories of places, feelings and states of being. For me, place is a condenser of memory and associations.

Elaborate on your style and medium.

Because I use a wheelchair, being aware of my surroundings is a necessity. I have to intentionally observe and remember obstacles like kerbs, steps and doorways to orientate myself. While my physical limitations are restrictive, they have forced me to adapt and find my own style. Interestingly this observational training has proved to be an asset to my artistic career.

I enjoy working in a variety of different styles: bold, loose, delicate, organic, smooth, and textured. Similarly, I use different media to evoke different emotions. The artworks in my first exhibition were charcoals on a watercolour and coffee base which created atmospheric and introspective artworks. Watercolour is delicate and unpredictable. Coffee is warm and earthy. Charcoal is raw and imperfect.

In my second exhibition, I focused on intricate nature scenes and light using watercolours. My latest exhibition focuses on digital artworks three of which were reinterpreted into limited edition screen prints by Wim Legrand of Black River Studio.

I see myself as a mark maker. My mark-making is characterised by fine brushwork that produces a sense of lightness and movement. Depth is often created by mark-making rather than through tonality. 

What is your relationship with light and colour in your art?

I love playing with light and colour. While I work with a limited colour palette I see myself as a colourist. In my latest series of urban landscapes, I experiment with complementary colour pairs like red-green and blue-ochre as the effect is visually striking and creates a rhythmic quality. Central to my artworks is painted shadows and reflections to evoke atmosphere and depth. 

Tell us about your latest exhibition

‘Remember to Play’ is my third solo exhibition and my first pop-up exhibition which forms a part of Cape Town’s First Thursday’s event. The exhibition is hosted by Openwine, a buzzing wine bar and Enoteca on Wale Street, Cape Town that specialises in niche South African wines. The headline artwork ‘Remember to Play’ is a screen print that depicts Openwine at its best, at their weekly Sunday Jazz sessions. The exhibition showcases 8 artworks – both urban and natural – that depict iconic scenes in and around the CBD. Above all these artworks celebrate human connection and feel like Cape Town.

Michael Beckurts

What does a typical day look like?

Inspired by David Hockney, I painted an A2 sign on my bedroom wall that reads “Start Painting Immediately”. It is the first thing I see in the morning and it reminds me of my responsibility to create prolifically. I try to start the day by creating something tangible. At any given moment I work on multiple artworks as I have a variety of projects on the go. Music and audiobooks keep me focused and in a state of flow while I work. Besides painting from my home studio, I make an effort to socialise with other artists, explore the natural environment with my sketchbook, and cold water swims in Cape Town’s beautiful tidal pools.

What advice would you give aspiring artists?

All artists and aspiring artists should never be far from drawing materials. So carry a sketchbook and a pen wherever you go. Build a habit of drawing whatever you find interesting. Spend time with and learn from other artists. Visit galleries and join a local drawing group. I have learnt a lot about art and the art industry from drawing and socialising at life drawing classes over the few years. 

What’s next for you?

I am excited to be partaking in the International Public Art Festival in Cape Town in March where I will be experimenting with a large-scale artificial reality mural. Alongside my mural preparations, I am planning a series of figurative oil paintings. I have done a series of exciting wine labels for a wine project called Tremors, and look forward to the next release. My goal is to do an art residency and I am researching various options around Africa and Europe.

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