The alternate worlds of artist Luis Beckett & Rondeveux

words Anna Marsden

Welcome to the functionally dysfunctional world of Luis Beckett and Rondeveux. Where does one end and the other begin…

artist Luis Beckett

“You should maybe think about having an imaginary person to blame all your bad decisions on”, advises artist Luis Beckett as we sit amidst a real-life recreation of one of his absurdist paintings. It is the opening night of his exhibition; Ron-de-veux and the curtains have been drawn at Levenshulme’s Talleyrand to reveal a circus of delinquent characters in vivid and striking surrealist scenes.

I am invited to sit around a table hosting candles and a paused card game with Beckett to my left and an intriguing mannequin, head lolling to the side, on my right. This is Rondeveux himself, a character of Beckett’s creation who has become part of the artist himself; he is an imaginary friend, an alter ego and a complete mystery all rolled into one. “He’s got an ace up his sleeve and a long line of handkerchiefs as well”, says Beckett.

Luis Beckett art

He sprinkles tiny fragments of information about Ron(deveux) as we chat, leaving me to frantically pick up these particles of information in the hopes of piecing together a coherent puzzle of a character that even Luis himself deems a mystery. A failed clown with no passport – possibly from Weston Super Mare? – who spent time as a volunteer stunt double, Ron is an enigma, a riddle, even to the man who created him; “I don’t really know what he gets up to”, admits Beckett, contentedly. He speaks of Rondeveux fondly yet with a pensive and ruminative air that means you can’t help but take him seriously, despite the oddities. “Me and Ron are the same in a lot of ways and he’s kind of like my freedom to do stuff – my ticket to do things I could get in trouble for. He lets me explore and be a bit crazy”. For Luis, Ron seems to be a form of escapism, a way for him to “make life more interesting” and put himself in a fantasy scenario of swirling colours, bandits and devils.

Luis is more than happy to tell me about his work, he’s humble yet proud, and proud he should be. His work lines the walls, framed by deep red curtains that add to the theatrical atmosphere in the space. Centre stage is the piece that started it all; The Faustian Pact, a huge 171 x 186 cm acrylic painting of his character playing a game of shithead with the devil; “it’s meant to be this crucial point, a sort of crescendo”, explains Beckett. He uses his paintings to compose a cinematic scene, a snapshot from a made-up film that never existed, sinking in the surreal and the dramatized. Salford born and clearly a Manchester boy through and through, Luis reminisces about where all these weird and wonderful characters in his work begun.

art luis Beckett

He studied Fine Art in Bristol, a city “full of real-life characters…that probably added to it”, he says, nodding and contemplating before admitting, “I watched The Mighty Boosh far too young – I’ve got to give that a bit of credit!”. His influences now extend further afield than Noel Fielding (although silliness is at the core of what Luis work is all about) to include Dr Zeus, The Seventh Seal and the mythological protagonist Faust. This is prevalent in his works such as Three Men Walk into a Bar, an oil painting on wood that stands out as a piece somewhere on the brink of reality and nightmare. “All of this exists in this world, they all could’ve brushed past each other or bumped into one another or stood next to one another at the urinal”, shrugs Beckett, expressing that at the crux of his practice is his desire to “create something that is grounded in reality but that is slightly off…a sweet spot that isn’t a completely unfathomable surrealism dreamscape”.

As I wander the gallery, I understand what Luis means by this as, although his pieces are undeniably bizarre and exaggerated, they’re rooted in the everyday situations we experience and the eccentric characters we come across. His work is just about on the cusp of where you can lose yourself in it. Right before you fall under his trance, the painted fever dreams contain an element that anchors you back into the real world, you break the surface with a gasping breath just as you thought you were lost in Beckett’s nightmare forever.

His exhibition is a theatre of the absurd, a collection of pieces that feel nightmarish in this very absurdity. Luis Beckett politely disagrees. “These perhaps scary characters can become quite comforting, because they’re a figure of my imagination…it’s just me. I’ve birthed these in my head, and I want to meet more of them – I think they know people so I’m excited to meet their mates”. Finding comfort in the absurd is something of a new ethos for Luis, “my outlook on life recently is quite an absurdist one in the sense that life is crazy and rather than being shook or like moved in the wrong direction by a situation, I just embrace it, accept it was absurd and then end up actually finding comfort in that as well”.

From abstract disco balls and onomatopoeic sculptured pipes, Luis has a distinctly metaphysical style which speaks to audiences of his comfort with the peculiar aspects of life. His fascination with the “functionally dysfunctional” in a world where everything is built for a purpose adds another element to the abstract land he has created through his paintings. Hanging above me are ceramic pipes impossible to smoke due to intricate knots with fun names such as ‘thingamajig’ and ‘curly wurly’. He loves the idea that they could potentially work enough just enough to get by but, not without wreaking some havoc first.

artist Luis Beckett

The evening unfolds as guests steadily spill into the space, exploring the circus, befriending Rondeveux and becoming hypnotised by the worlds Beckett has brought to life. Friends of the artist, old and new, filter in and out exchanging memories and words of congratulations with the artist, which clearly means a lot to him.

I leave Luis Beckett reminiscing with friends (real and imaginary), but not before being dropped one last nugget of information about Rondeveux and what to expect from the future of such a promising artist. “My next project is going to be me delving into Ron specifically, retracing his steps”.

As I depart, I am more intrigued than when I arrived as, with each question answered, a thousand more took its place. I whiz away on Levenshulme’s night bus, recollecting the artefacts and the carnival I have left behind, the hanging pipes seem to still swing before my eyes like a hypnotist’s pendulum. They’re suspended in the air like a question without an answer. But when it comes to work such as Beckett’s…do we even need answers? I thumb the pin badge souvenir in my pocket as a reminder that the night was real and to reassure myself that Rondeveux is a mystery, and that is just how he should stay. At least, until Luis Beckett knows the truth himself.

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