Bekky Beukes, who left her native South Africa just four years ago for the Tampa Bay area, has in that short time become a visual artist whose works are respected, admired and – perhaps the greatest honor of all for a painter – immediately recognized.
Her spirit-like women, elastic, wide-eyed and blank-faced, entwined with mirror images and feathers and pulsating Medusa-snake hair, are like no other work created in our cornucopia community. You know them when you see them.
Beukes has painted several impressive murals as well, including the Rialto Theater in Tampa, so it’s not surprising that the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance invited her to be a part of the 2018 SHINE Mural Festival (Oct. 6-14).
The American part of her story represents Bekky Beukes’ re-invention of herself. She was 30 years old when she left Johannesburg in 2014 and followed family members to Florida. Although she’d traveled extensively, she’d never been to the United States.
And before she got here, she had never before picked up a paintbrush.
“For the first year that I lived here I wasn’t able to work, because my paperwork was being processed and all that stuff,” Beukes explains. “So I rented an art studio and I started painting, for myself. I always wanted to paint. I just never had the time before, I was running a company back at home. So I took advantage of that time to do something with myself that I’d always wanted to do.”
Her “passion project” turned into a well-received sideline – and today, even though she still has a day job, Beukes maintains a working studio in Ybor City and has had numerous gallery shows.
She’d been a successful fashion designer in South Africa, operating a company called Chimera.
“I address my work the same way I would have addressed my fashion work,” Beukes explains. “For example, when I put a body of work together I’m presenting a collection of work, in each show. And that’s how I would have executed a body of work in my fashion career.
“The work process is pretty familiar to me, that high intense creative offload, that emotional space that you go into when you’re creating something and building something. That art, it seems to me, is a little bit more organic, whereas fashion was geared more towards business. I’ve adapted the business ideal into the art as much as possible.”
As for her subject matter, Beukes says she finds a wellspring of emotion and feeling in the human form. “You can watch somebody’s movement, their gestures, the way that their back is arched – to me, that’s where the language really is,” she explains. “I don’t really think words are valuable these days, unfortunately. I love watching bodies move. I watch faces, and I watch eyes.”
And none of it’s random. “Because I’m female, I relate to female bodies more, and they tell my story. I’m an emotional painter, so I paint from experience. And I paint to answer a question that I have about something. I spend a lot of time in solitude painting, and thinking about whatever it is I need to unpack.”
So her work is autobiographical? “Pretty much,” Beukes replies. “I wouldn’t say the paintings themselves are me, but there’s a story behind every single painting. Everything’s intentional.”
For her SHINE debut, she’s working on a mural at Green Beach Brewing, 1133 Baum Ave. N. It’ll become what it becomes.
“Bear in mind that this has only been a four-year journey,” says Beukes. “So I’m still in the early stages of exploring my subject matter.
“As I’m learning, and discovering myself through the work, and I’m being watched at the same time. So there’s a lot of defining and identifying now that possibly in a couple years’ time will be different to the work that I’m producing now. I hope so.”
Stay tuned for more on SHINE 2018