The everyday and the grotesque – BECK

BeckBeckA man is dragging a large stone across the beach whilst in the distance houses, bicycles, animals and portaloos are flying through the air. A woman is lying on a beach towel and the man is weighting down her arms and legs. The title of this cartoon by BECK is Am Strand bei Windstärke 12 ('on the beach in a 12-force gale'), which is also the title of his collected works. It is a typical scenario for BECK’s humour. The cartoonist from Leipzig loves the absurd and enjoys mixing things up. When he writes his signature he always places the ‘e’ of BECK facing backwards or sometimes he writes his name entirely upside down.

The everyday and the grotesque shake hands in BECK’s cartoons, such as his cartoon strip set on the beach. In this cartoon it is obvious that objects must be weighted down so that the wind does not blow them away. But does a man do this to his wife? And if you look at the cartoon strip closely you have to ask yourself, who or what is BECK actually caricaturising? Is it the madness of the beach visitors, who are determined to enjoy their holiday come rain or shine, or is it the way that men deal with women or treat them like objects? If you take the cartoon strip to its logical conclusion, then once he has pinned down his wife with the last stone, the man will be blown away by the wind. Nor does BECK make all his points simply in the content of the cartoon but also in the drawing of it, as he uses a cultural-historical symbolism. The way the woman is represented with all extremities outstretched reminds one of a crucifixion and the stones lead directly to an association with stoning. Because the man does not want to help his wife at all but rather take advantage of the situation in order to run away from her.

The man hiding behind these multi-layered cartoon strips was born in 1958 in Leipzig, in his early years he made his way to Berlin, where he studied Architecture and Commercial Art. He survived by doing various different jobs, working as a newspaper seller, in an ad agency, as a graphic artist and as an illustrator. Together with Anke Feuchtenberger, Henning Wagenbreth and Holger Fickerscherer he became a temporary member of the graphic artist and illustrators group 'PGH Glühende Zukunft'. In 1997 BECK decided to work only as a cartoonist and a couple of years later he returned to Leipzig. His neighbourYvonne Kuschel describes the artist, who took second place at the 2012 German Cartoon Award, in the following laconic words: “A humorist is at work in the next room. He loves being alone with his thoughts and a pot of tea. A pen, a stack of paper and a big striped tomcat accompany him through the day and the various rooms. Since he often does his thinking on the outdoor seat, he prefers to use sketchbooks. Sometimes he plays ping-pong. He feeds his large and small birds daily and takes loving care of his plants.” His black-and-white or pastel-coloured caricatures are to be found regularly in newspapers and magazines such as natur Eulenspiegel, Gesundheit & Gesellschaft, Readers' Digest, in the Swiss magazine K-Tipp and in the British magazine The Oldie.

Part of Beck’s art is to take content and themes that are as disparate from each other as possible and put them together. He is particularly successful in doing this in his cartoons about daily political events. BECK brings complex circumstances down to an everyday level and deconstructs them further with the help of word games. The phenomenon of the ‘parallel society’ he depicts by using the example of a marriage, the smallest social unit. A man has his back to his wife and is reading out of the newspaper: "parallel society was the word of the year last year", to which she replies, without turning around, "I didn’t notice that". And so the reader clearly understands: it is simpler to make politics and society in general responsible for mistakes than it is recognising them in one’s direct surroundings or daily life.

BECK is a precise observer of simple people. He snaps up their comments, whether heard on the street or in the pub, and reflects them visually. The voice of the people can be heard through BECK’s cartoons, partly banal, but nevertheless unsurpassably revealing, satirizing the folly of our existence.

Matthias Schneider is a cultural scientist, freelance cultural journalist and curator of film programs and exhibitions about comics.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
November 2012

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