Inside the Natural World of Jan Beekman
The Lyman Allyn Art Museum New London CT
The original sin of man is to have separated himself from the rest of nature
The Natural World
"The central subject of my work is the natural world and its relationship to the human condition. Why are we here? What are we doing?"
Although Jan Beekman is best known for his monumental portrait, The Liberation of Nelson Mandela (1996), which hangs in the United nations headquarters in New York, the exhibition at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut, reveals another dimension of his art, a deep immersion in the natural phenomena of his immediate environment, the woodlands of Southeastern Connecticut. His paintings evoke a sense of wonder as viewers become absorbed in the subtle textures, graceful shapes, and vibrant colors of the natural world. Yet they also make us aware of the biodiversity and delicate balance of our natural ecology, raising questions about the mismanagement and pollution of our precious natural resources.
The Museum appreciates the generosity of its supporters: the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, Bank of America, Trustee; People’s United Bank; Seward and Monde, Certified Public Accountants and Consultants; a special gift from Bernard and Nelly Murstein; and the Art History and Architectural Studies Department, Connecticut College. For their support, I thank the museum staff, especially D. Samuel Quigley, director, and Jane LeGrow, registrar and assistant curator. I am also grateful to Jan Beekman, Gillian Lane-Plescia, and Nelly Murstein for their indispensable assistance in planning the exhibition
This exhibition honors Nelly K. Murstein, Hanna Hafkesbrink Professor Emeritus of French at Connecticut College, for her long-time dedication to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum as a docent and member of the Board of Trustees.
--Barbara Zabel, guest curator
Lichen growing on tree trunks is a recurrent subject in Beekman’s paintings, suggesting various narratives. By helping to retain water, lichen is beneficial to soil stabilization. However, it also absorbs pollutants, and is thus a useful “bio-monitor” of air quality. Lichen may therefore remind us of our role as stewards of the natural elements we depend on for survival. Additionally, lichen decays, curls and breaks apart as it dries out, but comes to life again when it rains. By evoking the never-ending cycle of life, death, and rebirth, Beekman’s paintings awaken us to the awesome in nature – to the intimate Sublime.
Beekman’s vision is as much scientific as artistic
Beekman’s vision is as much scientific as artistic. Using meticulous brushwork and vivid color, he records his close observation of lichen growing on tree trunks. As viewers, we are drawn into his vision and encouraged to meditate on the beauty and function of this complex organism. Composed of fungus and algae, lichen depends on an interdependent relationship: the fungus absorbs water and nutrients, providing a fertile environment for the algae; through photosynthesis, the algae produce carbohydrates for the fungus. The lichen—and Beekman’s paintings—suggest a microcosmic model for a symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world.
Those who reside in rural woodlands experience what scientists call the “edge effect,” where two eco-zones meet, in this case, where dirt road, vegetable garden, and house encroach on nature. This is where chance encounters – or “near misses” and “collisions” – between disparate forms of life are likely to take place. This series was inspired by Beekman’s observations of such edge effects, but his imagination has taken a fanciful turn as lichen-laden tree branches swoop like the hummingbirds that feed and fight on the artist’s deck.