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Michael Beckurts: Creativity cannot be confined

by 19 Mar 2020Culture

With several projects coming to fruition, second-year student Michael Beckurts is as busy outside school as during it. He talks about what art means to him and why he loves to try new things.

On a sunny summer’s day Michael Beckurts, a second-year student at the Creative Academy, sits under an umbrella next to a large wall in Salt River. He is making the final touches to his mural for the International Street Art Festival. Every now and again interested locals or tourists on a street art tour stop to chat. It’s a first for Michael – he’s never tackled an artwork of this size. But he doesn’t let anything break his speed, thoughtfully explaining his take on the theme of digitalisation while doing the line work on one of the characters.


Taking on a new medium, in public, for an international festival, is just the type of courageous step you’d expect from one of our students. After all, at the Creative Academy we pride ourselves on being “for those bold enough to change the future”. But Michael is even more used to pushing boundaries than most of his fellow students. That’s because he creates his art from a wheelchair, due to a condition that has affected his bone development.

Grounded in art

Art has been central to Michael’s life from an early age. One of the first drawings he can remember is the yellow lion he drew in Grade R. “My teacher showed it to my parents and from then on they encouraged me to draw. Of course, it was also a form of rehabilitation for me. I’ve had quite a few operations over the years, especially when I was young. So holding a pen and drawing was great for the development of my fine motor skills and muscles. In primary school I also joined a painting class. Not only was the physicality of mixing the paint and reaching up to the canvas good for me, but I really enjoyed it.”

Art ignited something in him. In high school his art teachers, Peter Hyslop and Katherine Spindler, nurtured his talent and encouraged him to pursue it. They introduced him to the Creative Academy and here Michael has found his niche. “I liked that the Creative Academy is so open and inclusive. And it is great that the classes are small. You have personal contact with the lecturers, they’re very approachable.”

And then there is that willingness to experiment. As an artist Michael loves working in a variety of mediums. Ask him about the appeal of each and he gives a carefully considered explanation. Working in oils feels “major”, it’s on a grand scale. “With watercolour you have to be very strategic, it’s unforgiving – one splotch can ruin your picture.” What he loves about charcoal is that you can rub it away and layer it, achieving a sense of depth that goes from really light to really dark.

Creative highlights

Even though Michael is only in his second year of studying Communication Design, he has already produced a wide range of works. First of all, there’s Toast, a young adult fantasy novel for which he created the illustrations.


“My cousin, Valentino Mori, who’s a writer, contacted me to find out if we could collaborate. Since he lives in America, we did everything digitally and I had to draw on my iPad for the first time,” he says. “I’d also never done something like this: full-on character design and aligning the illustrations with certain plot points and the personalities of the characters. To be honest, I approached it intuitively. I have a history of making little comics and drawing people.

“In the end, I did 30 full illustrations, one of which was a map of the landscape. This was a challenge as it had to reflect the text, so if someone is standing in one area and looking over another, the map had to show those in relation to each other. Plus that world is full of magic, so it was a nightmare, really! But through trial and error, and lots of feedback, we got there.”

This month another one of his projects sees the light. It’s a wine label that he designed for Raphael Paterniti and Marta Gobbo, the Italian owners of Open Wine. Their business is based at the Old Biscuit Mill, where the Creative Academy is also located. The wine, CheNinà 2019, is dedicated to the couple’s daughter. Michael drew creative inspiration from the story of Alice in Wonderland and illustrated a long table featuring a range of colourful characters. The label wraps around the bottle and Michael loves that it has the ability to draw the customer in. “You have to turn the bottle to see the whole picture. It’s not a single impression, it’s a continuing story. It’s something very personal and emotional.”


And that’s just the beginning. Michael is also looking to collaborate with a famous chef on a new recipe book. “The plan is to do paintings of the atmosphere in the restaurant and show some dishes and ingredients.”

Always learning

You might wonder why a young artist with this much experience is bothering to study. His answer betrays a wisdom that belies his age. “The idea is not only to develop commercial skills but to understand and appreciate the theory behind art. I like this degree because it’s a balance between practical abilities and learning contemporary art theory, which I can apply to my own work.”

It’s that same drive that has led Michael to take life drawing classes outside school. “I’m doing it firstly to build upon my drawings that I do of people. And secondly to meet a different type of artist. They’re quite eccentric creatives, and they’re older, established artists. It’s really helped me to grow my circle. And to develop the confidence you get from drawing in pen, without a pencil and eraser. It’s a really important skill.”

Landscape of the heart

Whether he’s illustrating a young adult novel or creating a wine label, tackling a project for class or drawing from a live model, it’s the work itself that Michael relishes. His current passion is charcoal landscapes. “A landscape is neutral yet emotive. It’s not limiting, it’s unpretentious. I don’t really have a message, I don’t want to seem like a righteous person who has something to say. A landscape speaks for itself.”

This time he’s working without reference photographs, basing the images on his recollections to get to the essence of the place. His first work is of his grandparents’ farm near Knysna. “At night I would ride around enjoying the nocturnal sounds. Just being independent and alone is quite a unique experience for me. I hoped to capture that sense of solitude.”

Michael’s ambition is to create a number of these landscapes and then show them around galleries. While the BA degree that he is studying towards might determine the start of his working life, his real passion is to be an artist with his own studio.

It’s easy to picture him in his own space, experimenting with new mediums, trying out different approaches. Breaking new ground comes naturally to him, after all. Michael Beckurts’s creativity cannot be confined.

Using creativity for change

Elaine is a strong supporter of the use of creativity to effect change. “The heart of my work is to help people shift. And I started off doing that through working in prison.” She ran creative workshops in maximum security prisons for three years.

“I have an unshaking belief that everyone can shift and reframe and change and that’s what I’ve devoted my life’s work to. I’m absolutely passionate about people getting to the place where they feel that they are better versions of themselves, where they have hope. Creativity is the most incredible mobiliser for that.”

Looking at the work that the CLC does, there’s a real sense that there’s no limit to exploring transformation through creative processes. A workshop in incense making is used to embed bravery; creating Japanese kites is an experience in letting go. ‘Getting unstuck with glue guns’, a way to overcome personal blockages, is run by the Creative Academy’s Francois Jonker, an associate of the CLC.

A place of scenius

The collaboration between the Creative Academy and the CLC is something that lies Elaine close to heart. This year the Academy will host Business Acumen for Artists and Advanced Creative Entrepreneurship, short courses run by the CLC.

“It’s amazing to have a space in which you can run things with like-minded people,” she says. “Our ethos is very much the same. When you go into a place where work is aligned, it makes it so much easier for people to do the work and undergo the transformation they need. The Creative Academy is a place of scenius,” she says, referencing musician Brian Eno. His concept holds that your environment, the scene within which you find yourself, can promote your ability to create.

“The scenius, if picked well, will provide the context for exceptional inspiration,” as Elaine explained during the graduation speech. “The scene builds the extraordinary, not the lone genius.”

It’s a useful reminder that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it needs a nurturing environment. Take a tip from Elaine Rumboll, a Professor in Play, and give yourself the space to create. Feed your energy by being playful and surround yourself with people who stimulate you.

As Elaine reminded the class of 2019, “Remember the incredible power you hold. Understand that your creativity is a tool for transformation. Stay close to it.”

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