Berry van Boekel Summer Library Artist

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“I am originally from The Netherlands,” said Berry van Boekel, the Fort Myers Beach Library Artist of the Month for June and July. “I received my undergraduate degree in Painting while in school there, then earned my Graduate Degree from The Ohio State University, where I met my wife, Maria. Seven years ago, we decided to relocate to Southwest Florida, as we were in-between jobs and Maria always wanted to move to Florida, so we just decided, ‘Let’s do it!’ Soon she was a librarian at Florida SouthWestern State College and I was instructing art there.”

Berry’s interest in art began at a young age. “I started painting in Kindergarten and remember that people thought I showed talent, but there was no such thing as art instruction in grade school, so I fell away from it. Once I attended high school, they offered art and that rekindled my interest, and I began to think about it as a career, even though art is a road bypassed by most people, so I applied to the Arts Academy. I was also in a heavy metal rock band, becoming very familiar with music from ‘The Top 100,’ and found a way to combine my artistic and musical interests.”

This led Berry’s artwork to focus on a unique style and range: “I picked out ‘The Top 100’ musical artists of each year, based on my favorite songs, and did a portrait of each of them. This began when I was quite young, like 19 years old, while working on my undergraduate degree, so now I have several thousand of them. You can see many of those on my website, where I write about them, as they comprise roughly 90% of my works. The range of musicians is an eclectic mix, with many well-known, and there is a generous infusion of international performers, as well as local artists from Columbus. I do not have any Fort Myers Beach musicians in the collection, at least not yet.”

Two Month Summer Exhibit

This is Berry’s first FMB Public Library exhibit, and his connection is a natural! “Maria now works at the Fort Myers Beach Library, so you can’t have a better ‘in’ than that,” he said with a laugh! “We live on the beach now, and on January 20 of this year, I had an opening at our house, debuting 40 new paintings, and the late FMB Library Director, Dr. Leroy Hommerding, and the current Director, Cletus Poser, were to attend, but then fate intervened, as the murder of Dr. Hommerding was that morning.”

Berry’s exhibit will remain at the 3rd Floor Gallery for June and July. “Most of the time, the Library rotates shows every month,” he explained. “But because Library visitation declines during this time of the year, those of us who display over the summer are there for two months, to give more people the opportunity to see our artwork. There are roughly 25 pieces in my exhibit, including two large landscapes that do not feature musicians. Most of these are not recent works, but go back to between 2012 to 2014. We were new to Florida back then, and living in Fort Myers, with a nice piece of land with palm trees, so I would often paint our yard and superimpose ‘The Top 100’ musicians over that backdrop, so it looks like they are performing in our backyard.”

“Bob Dylan,” 2013, by Berry Van Boekel.

The Beach Library hosts a “Meet The Artist” session on Friday, June 7, at 2 p.m. “There will also be a similar program in late July, near the end of my show,” he stated. “I hope that will include a demonstration and discussion about my artwork, but we are still working out details. Look for more information on this when the Beach Library releases its July Events Calendar.”

Also on Friday, June 7, Berry is the guest of the National Public Radio station podcast sponsored locally by Florida Gulf Coast University on a program entitled “Three Song Stories.” “The interview with me lasts one hour,” he explained. “They invite people who select three songs from their lives and talk about those, as well as other important things that go on, so it is a nice way to continue to introduce my art to the greater community. It will be on at noon on June 7, then repeated frequently.”

Cultural Significance

To view Berry’s “Top 100” artworks exhibit, visit the Beach Library’s 3rd Floor Gallery through Wednesday, July 31. The Library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard, with hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and closed Sundays and holidays, including Thursday, July 4th. For information, see www.fmb.lib.fl.us or call 239-765-8162. To check out more of Berry’s artworks, see berrystop100.blogspot.com. “You can see a wide variety of my catalog online, including smaller watercolor paintings. I generally do not sell many of my artworks, with most that I do through exhibits.”

When contemplating what art means to him, Berry reflected, “It is my life and there is no way around that, and I’ve thought that since I was 19 years old. As for ‘The Top 100,’ the great thing about that collection for me is it is a complete archive of my career, and I believe it is a valuable archival document, regardless of how you feel about each individual painting or whether the entire package is valid or not. The City of Fort Myers recently awarded me a grant to establish such an archive next to my studio that we will call ‘The Top 100 Studio & Archive’ that will take a little while to get together, so look for additional details on its opening, most likely this fall, with space for events and people to visit. I am convinced that if I can keep ‘The Top 100’ whole, it does carry a cultural significance and meaning.”

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news