Dr. John Beckmann is an American biochemist and artist creating highly technical and beautiful art evocative of the classic 19th century printmakers such as Otto Dix, Albrecht Durer, William Blake et al. Works that are violent, full of movement, ethereal, beautiful and wholly unique.
Interestingly John references that bastion of modern nerd culture, ‘Magic the Gathering’ as a major influence on his art as well.
(Picture below of some art by John)
With John constantly creating and pushing himself artistically now is the perfect time to get to know the man, his love for science and his art, by reading the Art Talk below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
John Frederick Beckmann, PhD.
City, State n Country you currently call home?
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
City, State n Country your from?
Faribault, Minnesota, USA.
(Picture below of some art by John)
Describe a memory from some stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together your pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING man!
* age 5 – beginnings:
My earliest memory is falling on the icy roads of Minnesota and hitting my face on the concrete. My lips were bleeding.
With respect to art the earliest drawings I remember making and still have somewhere in a box were sick figure battlefields.
I got huge pieces of paper and drew lava-lamp like landscapes with swirling, rounded, obtuse, platforms. On the landscape I would draw stick figures with stick guns, swords, grenades ect… I drew tanks with treads whose most prominent feature was a massive gun mounted atop of a dome-shaped armor plated shielding with a small rectangular cut out for sighting. (Some of these tanks still come up in my books like Zombielzebub).
I loved conceiving booby traps for the stick figures to fall into; deep dark crevices in the hollowed out landscapes with trap doors that led to sinister depths filled with punji sticks or razors that would slice off stick figure limbs. Enemies would drop grenades into the pits and close the doors. These are the kinds of images I remember drawing from an extremely early age .
There is another funny story of a second grade teacher who assigned us an art project of drawing turkeys for thanksgiving and I drew the turkey holding two axes and a decapitated farmer in the background.
(Picture below of John’s childhood Thanksgiving art)
In early grade school I loved drawing. I used to think I was the best artist in school. Then in second grade this new kid joined our class who was an amazing artist. He designed a bubble lettering font and could replicate Garfield comics with masterful skill. He would also draw the classic cartoon expression where the eyes and tongue pop out of the skin which is popping out of the muscle tissue which is popping of the skull expressing an amazement at some shocking scene.
That guy made me quit drawing because as hard as I tried I could not replicate the stuff that he was making. So I stopped drawing until high school.
I had an unhealthy concept of art. I believed that you were only good at drawing if you could draw things realistically and replicate. This is a very juvenile understanding of artistry.
* age 15 – getting serious:
I started drawing again in high school to make my friends laugh.
One image I drew was of two people having sex and howling like wolves; I would fold these things up, and pass them with a note saying “pass it on.” I had had an epiphany. I could draw things that were controversial and that people loved despite my inability to “replicate.”
The kid who made me quit drawing was still in our highschool class and he had become so skilled. He could paint, do woodshop, draw, ect. with an amazing creative talent. But his images were very stiff in a way. They were always so realistic. My art was just crap from an adolescent pubescent boy; and in that way it was amazing.
(Picture below of John as a teen)
* age 20 – young adult:
In college I was a science student. But I had some extra time and I wanted to do a double major so I randomly decided that I would be an art major.
My first art class was sculpture. This class had women with hairy armpits, stinky people, and I was like this science kid from another department.
My first assignment was to make a casted sculpture and the teacher gave out this sheet with all these rules for the project. Being a science kid and wanting to get a good grade I followed the protocol; and I absolutely hated my sculpture. It was fucking terrible. When the class reconvened for the critique and I saw everyone else’s sculptures I realized that nobody followed any of the rules! I was the only dumb sap who followed the rules and yet I liked their sculptures much more than mine! Then I realized that they all were going to get better grades then me…
…This taught me a valuable life lesson. Don’t ever follow the rules, just do what you think is awesome and the style points will carry you through to a better outcome.
Our last assignment for that class was to do an art project made for destruction. So we had to make the art and then do a performance piece destroying the art in front of the class. So I made this anatomically correct penis made of very exquisite walnut dark brown wood and paired it with a set clasping wooden fingers made from white pine wood. I sanded it and finished it all so nice with a polyurethane lacquer. Then I bought fake colored fingernails from a nail salon and glued them onto the wooden fingers. For the destruction of the piece I took a pliers and ripped the fingernails off of the fingers one by one as the class jeered in painful cries. Then I took a tree branch clipper and cut the fingers in half one by one. Finally, I sawed the dick in half. It was a DOMINANT performance.
I got an A!
In another class assignment I punched myself in the face until I got a bloody nose and painted a picture with the blood. I still have this drawing as proof and many of my friends witnessed the act!
I continued my art and science degrees and focused my art on printmaking. So I consider myself a printmaker who specializes in woodcuts. But I also draw, illustrate and publish books, and do tattoos now.
* age 25 – further continuations:
My mid twenties was the time I was getting my PhD. I also had two daughters, Jane and Elaine.
When I had Jane it was very tough. My wife had a good job, so she would work all day while I stayed at home with Jane. Then when she came home I would go to work from 5-1:00am then come back and do it again the next day. During the day with Jane I would often try to spend a lot of that time working on my art. Drawing or carving, with my baby at my side. It was a pleasant time and a good memory, but very tough and tiring. (she appears in some of my movies on my website!)
I accomplished a lot of work during this time period and put out the Big Fucking Monsters as well as Zombielzebub and 38 (two books); and then I also got my PhD. So I am proud of that time of my life.
(Picture below of John in his 20s)
* age 30 – adult mode:
I’m not at 30 yet (currently 28), but I think this question is directly related to my Post-Doc. A post-doc is a job you get after your PhD that is supposed to be for even more advanced training in the biological sciences. So I came to Yale’s department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry to learn advanced protein biochemistry and yeast genetics.
This period of my life has utterly slowed my art to an almost standstill. When I came here it was necessary to devote all of my time to my job and hold off on the art. On top of that I had two more kids (Sam and Caleb; grand total of 4 so far).
I am definitely feeling the strain in my personal life and quality of life missing out on my art and most importantly space to make art and breathe. The east coast is so expensive. But I know this time is a temporary position and I plan for more free time in the future as a professor potentially or at least more capitol to build stuff if I go into an industry job.
Either way my Post-doc will lead me to better opportunities both as a scientist and as an artist. So I am excited for that.
* age 35 – adult continuations:
Not there yet.
Looking forward to it.
(A recent picture of John, below)
Every morning I make my kids say the pledge of allegiance to the American Flag which I wave in front of them. Then I make them chant “Choose to be Great! Don’t Hate! Rise to the Top! Don’t Let it Stop!”
I guess that is my motto.
I think whatever you choose to do in life you should work hard to become the best at it. And you should let your endurance and mental toughness come out in your interactions with people. You have to be proud of what you do. People should see your work and say, “My God that is amazing.”
You need ambition to be or do anything worthwhile.
Why the name ‘Stampede Press’?
Stampedepress conveys two things to me:
1.) a printmaking shop, hence press
2.) a stampede of imagery
I used to pride myself on my ability to produce way more quality images than my rivals (quantity and quality). Although my science work has slowed down the stampede of my art (at this point in my career).
But It is all about dedicating your life to art and trying to pump out as many great images as you can before you die.
We are at a unique point in history. All our images from my generation will survive eternally on the internet. We are setting the visual images that future people will use for as long as the internet is around. 500 years from now when someone searches werewolf woodcut online they will see my images. This is a great honor and in a way I am biasing everyone toward the way that I view things by implanting my images on the internet… So a stampede of images before I die will constitute my artistic legacy.
(Picture below of some art by John)
Favorite other artist(s)?
German Printmakers: Classical German printmaking artists have had a huge impact on my work.
I have stored every image from Otto Dix’s Der Krieg etching/aquatint series on my phone (my pseudo graphic novel Zombielzebub is actually a terrible attempt to do a Der Krieg like series).
One underrated image from this series is of a man killing another in a surprise attack with a bayonette.
Likewise, I have Hans Holbein’s Dance of Death series stored on my phone and on constant display on an electronic picture frame on my bench at work. Albrecht Durer is obviously a master that any printmaker must cite. I like Max Beckmann’s drypoints and his paintings. The Minneapolis Institute of Art has a Tryptich “Blind Man’s Bluff” by him with a big bench in front of it that I liked to look at.
Kathe Kollwitz, George Groz, Alfred Kubin are all other good Germans. As a printmaker I also like Posada (Mexican) and Warrington Colescott (Wisconsin).
Contemporary Influences: It is harder for me to talk about contemporary printmakers because I am so competitive. I don’t like to point out my competition. There is a list of people who I follow closely; this list includes Sean Star Wars, Bill Fick, and Tom Huck.
With respect to drawing I love Frank Miller’s Sin City. Although I would be lying if I said I was a huge consumer of graphic novels.
I am a wannabe graphic novel reader. I hate reading the words, but I like looking at the pictures.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
I love this question because I have very deep problems with the outdated institutions of Art.
I am adamantly against the gallery system. I will not send anything to a gallery. Why would I when I can post on Instagram and get a 1000 views in an hour?
I hate that they expect you to pay to submit your art for review. If you get selected, you have to pay to ship a framed print to them and back (which is outrageously expensive with the large prints that I do) and If it sells they take a big chunk of money. This is just dumb.
I strongly am trying to emphasize an online presence.
But I do admit there is nothing better than going to a gallery and seeing framed art in person. I just want to own my own gallery and do my own shows and not get scammed for money.
I also despise the monotony of thought in the art community.
Everyone is a left wing, anti-war, atheist, anti-GMO, organic, hippie, socialist, communistic nut. Everyone talks about diversity, but no-where does one encounter any diversity of thought. I don’t fit in well in that community because I am a religious, right wing conservative, libertarian, constitutionalist, capitalist, pro-GMO, scientist nut. I have four kids and am a scientific expert on genetic reproduction when all these art professors are talking about sterilizing themselves because the earth is overpopulated. They are making pictures depicting American soldiers as war criminals when I am advocating wiping ISIS off the map.
I think in many ways this has driven me to become a lone wolf in the art community.
Academia is a liberal bubble of group think.
I also think the PC culture and my generation in particular has been subjected to the everyone is a winner, everyone gets a trophy, pat yourself on the back bullshit. This has severely hurt art. There is just so much shit out there because everyone thinks they have something valuable to say. I went to an art show in new haven and this one lesbian couple just put bags on each others’ heads and took naked pictures of themselves. I have seen that type of feminist love your body art a million times before by people who did it a million times better than these people; and I like feminist art. I love Judy Chicago’s dinner (a piece of hundreds of vagina plates set at a dinner table); I just don’t like crappy art with boilerplate messages.
My art doesn’t pretend to preach a message. I just make shit that I want to hang on my wall and tattoo on my body and I try to be the best at it.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
I discussed this a bit earlier…
…Artists now are at huge advantage because of social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Personal Blogs and Websites.
You can make a post on Instagram and even if 25 people look at it that is more than would look at it just sitting in your sketchbook.
It is super exciting for me personally to see how good some people are out there and also humbling; in many ways it’s scary because you find someone you like and you see that they have 35K followers and you wonder how the hell you could compete with that guy; but also inspiring and motivating in a way that helps you identify your strong suits, your personality and style; You have to hone and develop your focus to break through.
If you market to everyone you market to no one.
(Picture below of a tattoo of one of John’s designs)
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
I consider it all three of those things. I am definitely shooting to for my work to be hung on someone’s wall in a very nice frame.
I think that is what most of my prints deserve and I strive to show that.
But I think a lot of my subject matter would be considered crap.
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
This is actually a great question and fits in well with the previous question…
… I made crap in high school (discussed above) before I made art. It has taken me a long time to develop my skills and focus to the point where I now say I am making art and I am an artist and I know what that means for me.
I think there should be a higher bar for what people claim is “art.” Not that lowbrow shit isn’t art. I love lowbrow crappy art drawings more than anyone. But I expect the people doing lowbrow art to be the best lowbrow artists ever.
For example, if I see someone draw a dead finger and call it “art” that finger better have an infected split nail with a wart, a bleeding pustule, a strange piercing, and a rabid slobbery dog bite. It’s all in the details… That’s what makes art to me. To be the best you emphasize the details.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
College was important for me in that it reinforced how good I was. I firmly believe that you have to suck at something before you are good at it. But you can get an estimate of how much potential you have by comparing yourself to peers at your same level. I always compared myself to everyone else in my classes and see how terrible they were and how much potential I had. It was a huge confidence booster which is so important for an artists’ ego.
There was one time in college when I was working on a massive intaglio etching (Integrated Pest Management). I was just sitting there working hard and this other student comes up to me and starts chatting with me. He begins to tell me about how frustrated he is with his piece and how he is trying to make something that is just “epic.” At that very moment some random girl walks by, looks at my etching and goes, “My God that is just so epic!” Lol, that guy got so pissed off and jealous and I just laughed inside. True story! That guy hated me ever after.
(Picture below of some art by John)
Describe the process of producing your work? – (dot point all o.k.)
I have discussed how important it is for me to make images that are the best.
So before I commit to making a big woodcut I draw the same type of thing 42 times in my sketchbook. I have scientifically determined that with 42 images I usually get about 3-6 images that I would consider awesome. Then I take the best parts of each of the best images and make an amalgam of the image which becomes the amazing woodcut.
Here is an example of this: I decided I wanted to do a woodcut of a nasty witch face. So I drew 42 witch faces. Then I picked the two most disgusting witch faces, which were the cleft palate witch and the scrotum hanging face witch and I made a cleft palate witch with a hanging scrotum like chin. Which turned into this. I added a dead eye, a cleaved nose, 20 broken teeth, a penis like wart, and pimply growth clusters… That is what I mean about the details.
The process of making the woodcuts is to draw the image on ¾ inch birch plywood.
Then you paint the image with a light coat of red acrylic paint (you can still see the image, but this allows you to see your progress better as you carve).
After the paint I do a thick coat of spray gloss polyurethane followed by a painted coat of liquid polyurethane. The function of the heavy gloss finish is to make the surface ink repellant such that you get an efficient transfer of ink to paper.
After I carve out the white areas of the image leaving the black lines alone (this is why woodcut it is called a relief process). Then I spread ink evenly on the wood template like a stamp and transfer the ink to a thin sheet of mulberry eastern paper and use a spoon to rub off the ink from the wood onto the paper.
I actually have a movie of this on my website: http://stampedepress.com/video/
(Picture below of John working on some art)
Odds n Ends
Please describe your experiences growing up in America?
I am super patriotic. I loved growing up in America.
I grew up in a small town where we would fish in the lakes and rivers and ride our bikes all over town. I used to do a lot of BMX bike riding. This kid in my town used to shave his whole head and put “BMX” in hair lettering on his scalp lol… that was my home town.
We used to ride to this secret graveyard where disabled people were buried in unmarked graves and play around in the graveyard. link here : https://billiongraves.com/grave/Bertha-Flatten/8846277#
There used to be an old insane asylum on the edge of town that we would explore and play paintball in. It was an amazing childhood. I was totally free to bike and explore anything and anywhere around. I thought I was king of that land.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
I kissed a girl in 5th grade. Otherwise my first serious girlfriend in 9th grade was the girl I am married to now with 4 kids. We dated for 7 years since 9th grade and then we got married and have been happily married now almost 7 years.
Here is my beautiful wife posing with some of my art. She’s the one who won’t let me tattoo the cleft palate witch on arm…
(Picture below of John’s loving wife)
What role did toys play in your childhood?
I was a huge toy fan. I was the kid that would go up into my room and play for hours by myself.
I loved Z-bots which were like little robot aliens. I would make up elaborate plays of these war-like z-bot races which endlessly fought. I loved legos too.
It’s really crazy to have kids and see yourself in the way your kids play. So far 3 of my kids seem like extroverts but I have one introvert girl, Elaine, who will take these little toy figurines and Barbies and go by herself alone in a corner and make the Barbies talk to each other. She can barely even talk, but she makes these dolls communicate with each other. I totally see in her the same playstyle I always had.
I love playing with my kids in the same way I used to play. I will play Barbies with my girls. My eldest daughter Jane will be like, “Do you like my dress?” and I’ll respond with my Barbie, “I don’t have time to look at your dress because you need to take me to the hospital and get me checked for chlamydia right now!” and my daughter will be like “Why are you sick” and I will say, “Yes, I am dying because my boyfriend ran me over with the car and left me on the street.” Lol, they get way into it because they love the advanced plotlines.
I also played a lot of video games as a kid. I was a huge Diablo 2 LOD fan. I played that game solid for like 10 years. I also was way into yo-yos and Magic the Gathering.
I still play Magic the Gathering and it has influenced my art. The art on those cards can be so awesome and the quotes and play mechanics of that game are so detailed.
Does sex change everything?
In that sex leads to reproduction and kids change everything yes.
Kids are the best thing in my life and at the same time have drastically changed the way that I can approach my life and the risks that I can take.
My favorite bands right now are Sabaton, The Sword, Alestorm, Turisas, and Tyr.
I also love Metallica, Megadeth, Black Label Society, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Primus, et al.
(Pictures below of some woodcuts by John)
Favorite TV show(s)?
My favorite show is Adventure Time, Spongebob Squarepants, Star Wars Rebels and Clone Wars. I watch these with my kids and can’t sing higher praise of them.
I hate the walking dead. This is a disgrace to people who actually like zombie stuff.
I like the concepts of Robot Chicken but I think it makes everyone uncomfortable at times.
Early seasons of the Vikings were good. Sense8 was okay. Game of thrones I will watch. Narcos was good.
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
I am a huge UFC/WWE fan. I love Brock Lesnar who wrestled at my alma mater (University of Minnesota). This guy has a huge sword tattooed on his chest. That is just dominant! In terms of specific fighters I am a huge fan of Donald Cerrone, Conor McGregor, Mark Hunt, Robbie Lawler, and the Diaz Brothers. I am a big Jiu Jitsu fan as well. I used to rent the very first UFC’s where there were no rules and people punched each other in the balls and kicked out teeth and stuff. I was way into that.
The Graduate, Akira, Alien, The Thing (Old version), The Fly, Conan the Barbarian (old one), Total Recall, Running Man.
Favorite books and comics?
I said above that I like the Sin City series by Frank Miller.
I listen to audible a lot at work. I love biographies. They inspire one to be a better person and work hard. I am currently listening to a biography of Ben Franklin. I just finished one on Einstein, the Wright brothers, another on Teddy Roosevelt. These are the kind of things I read.
I don’t have time to read novels really. But obviously I read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and Harry Potters.
For short stories I will read H.P. Lovecraft.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
The latest dream I had was that the women who manages a lot of my fruitfly stuff at work got super mad at me and didn’t want me working in their section of the lab anymore. It was actually very stressfull.
Most of my dreams are nightmares about exams and science shit.
The scariest dream I had lately was a nightmare that my son stabbed his eye out with a pencil or something. That was scary. He could do it too, he climbs on the table when no one is looking and falls off. He climbed onto a bookshelf and fell off and cleaved his tongue… We almost had to bring him to the emergency room. He’s crazy.
(Picture below of some art by John)
Have you ever tried psychedelics of any sort? And what was the experience like?
I have never been into drugs. I will drink to stimulate creativity and to allow myself to do long monotonous tasks more easily. But I don’t do drugs. I’m too scared that they will mess up my brain capabilities.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I would like to win the nobel prize for creating a transgenic insect that inhibits disease transmission.
I would love to direct movies. I hope someday I can make a movie. But I need to get a bunch of money to fund it…
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
My friends who do drugs have used it as a crutch.
With that said I think drugs could potentially be used as performance enhancers for creativity or study. Kary Mullis, who won the nobel prize in chemistry for PCR in 1993, claimed that he thought of PCR while surfing on LSD. So I actually think there is some scientific data for creative use of drugs. But I would not say I am an advocate of drugs. I think there are other ways to stimulate the same types of brain creativity, intensive exercise, artistic expression, Jiu Jitsu rolling ect.
I avoid drugs because I think they cause a lot of damage to society. But I am very libertarian on the issue.
Please describe what you think the American Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
I discussed it a bit above… I think many in my generation are idiots who think everyone cares about their self-esteem.
I know so many neurotic graduate students who seem mentally unstable. I used to know this girl who worked on bedbugs. She hated me because I seemed so sure about morality and issues of right and wrong.
Confidence can make people very nervous.
I always worried she would stick bed bugs into my backpack and infect my house out of anger.
On the other hand there is a population like myself who rebels against the neurotic liberal attitude of PC culture and zones of safe speech ect… It goes back to what I was saying about the bubbles that people live in. There are two Americas. There is sort of a world view of city life where people think that guns are the devil and a world view of rural America where everyone gets a gun at age 7 and learns to hunt… these two worldviews clash all the time and each argues that the other is going to be the end of the world. It is annoying.
Americans used to be known as people who try things, invent things, and do things.
The real American attitude is that if you want to do something you just figure out a way to do it and just start acting on it and learn along the way. I try to live that way and I think that is the quintessential American ethos.
I know you work in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale – where you study Wolbachia and transgenic insects….
* what’s your average work day like?
My average day changes from week to week depending on the experiments I am working on.
But an average 14 hour work day would look something like this:
First thing is collecting my virgin fruitflies for crosses at the beginning of the day.
Then I will check on some of my strains and pass ones that need to be passed or set up the crosses I need to set up and document some data from the fly crosses.
Then I would leave the fly lab and go back to my main base for some biochemistry experiments. If it’s a protein purification I would start working on that, set up some PCR’s, make some acrylamide gels for a western blot.
Then I would work diligently to finish all those experiments before sundown and get the hell out of there.
So lots of fly genetics, lots of molecular biology, lots of protein biochemistry.
* for those who don’t know – what’s it like at an Ivy League school?
It is a great place for science. There are nobel prize winners in our department. Every faculty member in the hallway is known for inventing some famous technique or some major specialty.
The downside is that you get this hyper inflated environment of egos and ambition that drives people to come in in the early morning and stay till late at night and come in every day on the weekend.
No one stops working. Its unhealthy in that sense. But I see this time point in my life as a temporary sacrifice to achieve something great.
Being at Yale is my one shot to do something amazing with my life. So I am taking it for all its worth.
* what exactly are Wolbachia and transgenic insects – in laymans terms?
Wolbachia is a bacteria that lives inside insect testes and ovaries. It has the unique ability to sterilize insect sperm. This is very important to science because insects spread diseases like dengue, zika, malaria, west nile, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, typhus, scrub typhus ect…
If we can find a way to sterilize insects we can alleviate many of the world’s problems. I figured out which proteins the Wolbachia bacteria use to sterilize insect sperm. Then I put those proteins into the chromosome of a fly and created sterile flies. That is a transgenic insect because you put one gene from one organism into the genome of a different organism.
Transgenics will be how we control insects in the future without using harmful chemical pesticides. Most of the food we eat is from transgenic crops. It’s a good thing. People who say otherwise are ignorant.
Which 1990’s era cartoon, would you most like to see as a sex toy, and why?
(Picture below of the Dragon Ball tribute sex toy by John)
Who would win in a fight and why: a rake thin and nerdy early 20s doctural student Vs. An angry jock on his way home from the game?
If jiu jistsu has taught me anything it is the humbling experience of being utterly destroyed by people half your size.
I predict that if the nerd was nerdy enough to study grappling and submissions he would likely destroy the angry jock.
Also the nerd is likely to carry mace and might just blind the jock at a distance of 10 feet without getting hurt.
(Picture below of the end results of the battle in all its violent beauty.)
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Right now I am collaborating with a scientist from Vanderbilt University on my insect control stuff.
No art collaborations now. Maybe in the future. I mostly keep to myself.
Any major projects you want to hype?
I have a vastly supreme deck of cards that I designed and made. If you play card games or know friends who do you will love my deck. Everyone who buys it gives it 5/5 stars. I think it’s probably the best product I ever made.
(Some pictures below of the ‘Stampede Press’ card deck)
- ‘Stampede Press’ – Site
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