Johnny Beerens
Oostburg 1966
Art Academy Tilburg 1988-1993


Johnny Beerens is a Dutch artist living in Breskens, the Netherlands. In his generally great monumental and at the same time minute artworks he tries to evoke reality as intensely and tangibly as possible which is something completely and essentially different from reproducing reality as precisely as possible. Also notable are his large wall paintings.

Beerens’ works are several times an ode to the sea, the tides, the power of nature and the cycle of live. It’s about eternal values. He uses, among other things, materials such as shells, shell-fragments, fossil shark’ teeth, nylon yarn from washed-up fishing nettings and other materials and processes this in self-made paper. With leafs, ropes and grid he sometimes makes die stamp or rielief embossing in the wet paper pulp. The paper acts as a connecting element between the representation of the environment and that environment itself.

His works are compounded and built up with complex and many layers and pieces of his handmade and hand-crafted  papers painted by watercolour and diluted acrylic paint. Often with various other technics, surfaces and materials combined within one work. Such as drawing, scratching, cutting, gluing. Sawing, constucting, etching and partially fragments are painted in self-made egg tempera and oil paint. In his recent work Oculus Maris (for more information visit: even a monitor with film images of the sea has been integrated.

(Frank van der Ploeg)

As a youth Picasso was already expert in the rendition of his surroundings. Early on he made the choice to develop his talent through experimentation, rather than through artistic representation of reality. The true realist chooses a different path. The artist pursuing this tradition utilisesevery possible visual means to achieve a sensory impression of material. It appears that there is yet a third way, that of ‘composite realism’. Johnny Beerens uses nature both as model and material. The paper he makes by hand is imbued with elemental imprints and impressions from the environment. Paper is in more than one sense the foundation. Form, matter and image afford an unprecedented illusionary experience.

Genius loci: in situ as well in the studio
If nature is the teacher of art, then Johnny Beerens proves himself to be a magician’s apprentice. But then one who seeks out the boundaries through experiments with material and thus maintains control. No outpourings other than in the visual sense. Beerens has a name as a ‘material expressionist’ to uphold, but his realism is illusionary. Rather he is a conceptual artist who happens to paint extremely hyper-realistic. Until 2001 he alternated his ‘magical realism’ with gigantic paintings that trancend the notion of trompe-l’oeil. The most striking is Brood en Vis (Bread and Fish) (1997) on a grain silo 22 x 27 metres and Levensbron (Source of life) (1995) on a 55-metre-high water tower. Along with the water droplets, Christian symbolism seeps out of the split in the tower, wounded like the crucified Christ.
Since 2001, his raw material has been his own handmade paper on which he etches and paints with watercolours. The paper acts as a linking canal between the rendering of the environment and the environment itself. During the first stage Beerens sets to work in the customary way. The Hollander chops up old cotton sheets, torn into strips, till the fibres separate and then beats these to a pulp. This is poured into large vats from which he can form the pulp into large-scale sheets. During forming – Beerens uses an extremely deep deckle on the mould – he mixes Shell grit and other small ingredients into the pulp. The still wet paper is laid on an uneven ground of shells, shark’s teeth and other solid material and passed through the press. The result is so-called die-stamp or relief embossing.
If the ‘blind’ sheets are impressive so are the following stages in wich Beerens bends material and technology to his will to achieve his own reality: “I set myself the task of examining things in a painterly way.” An ‘analysis’ of the work Wering der Zee (Sea Wall) (2009-2012) reveals the complexity of this examination. It consists of a great number of layers of torn and cut strips of handmade watercolour paper, treaded with starch during the forming process, and is combined with shells, shell grit, shark’s teeth fossils and nylon fibre from fishing nets washed ashore. The whole is fixed to a canvas and streched onto a panel. The overall picture is determined by etchings made from 33 individual plates in combination with watercolour paint. In a subtle second version of the work, Beerens demonstrates the effect of time: colonisation by lichens. These are added separately as extra layers, painted on individual pieces of paper but also sometimes fabricated from coloured paper pulp.
Just like the Verdronken land (Submerged Land) (2005-2006) series, Beerens found the inspiration for this work close to home: basalt blocks; worn away, weathered posts; and shell encrustations. He regularly travels ‘offshore’, in particular to Norway and Italy, as Terra di Siena (2003-2004) and Terra Creta (2008-2009) testify.
The composition of the material used for ‘Earth of Sienna’ contains volcanic sand and gold leaf, a knowing arthistorical wink at the gold leaf in the heavens of the early Italian   masters! The sand is also however incorporated into Verdronken Land (Submerged Land) and while the shark’s teeth are missing in Terra di Sienna, they do surface again in Terra Creta, which is based on preliminary sketches of the Crete Senesi (Sienna Clays), chalk and clay pits found in the infertile areas that alternate with fertile agricultural land around Sienna. The dry clods of earth and cracked terrain cling like an after image.
Beerens’ works are neither a literal window on reality, nor a ‘slavish’ application of indigenous materials. Realistic elements and materials are moulded together into one entity. Beerens conciously allies himself with a time-honoured tradition. In the seventeenth century impossible posies were lovingly composed of disparate seasonal flowers and landscapes were assembled from separate components only when back in the studio. The phantasmal reality, based on the thinking processes of a conceptual artist, is revealed extremely subtly in selfeffacing ‘self portrets’ to be found in water droplets and air bubbles. It is a reflection of Johnny Beerens himself, in his studio. This spawning ground is as much genius loci as the landscapes that inspire this modern master.

Frank van der Ploeg