Thelmi Bekker was born in Colesberg in the barren arid lands of the Karoo, and educated in the nearby town of Philippolis, birthplace of Sir Laurens van der Post. Without any formal art training, she began painting as a teenager under the guidance of Rona Steyn, a teacher at the local high school. Thelmi went on to study Library Science at UFS and graduated in 1980. She moved to Harrismith with her husband in 1986 and began painting full time. It was six years before her work, notable for its spirituality and naive interpretation, was shown to the public for the first time by the Crake Gallery in Johannesburg.
Thelmi finds inspiration in the beautiful Eastern Free State around her. With the use of colour and simple forms she seeks to portray the landscape with its blue-gum trees, hills, sheep, windmills and small towns. The works are narrative and colour is used as a means of expression. Inspired by the style of the British artist, Anora Spence, she uses simplistic symbolism in her paintings, which depict life in rural South Africa. For example, churches have always been the focal point of Karoo towns and villages and her distinctive steeples are inspired by the statues of Helen Martins of Nieu Bethesda
When one looks at Thelmi’s paintings, one is immediately confronted by the spontaneity of her work. There is a childlike honesty in the manner which her images are portrayed. Her work is spiritual and invites a dialogue between the artwork and the viewer. With a lack of perspective and realistic bodily proportion, her paintings are both naive and post-modern. This focuses one’s attention on the figures which lack shadows and have no recession into space. Thelmi has been influenced by the German Expressionists as can be seen in her emotional use of colour and the consequential linear quality in her work, which must be appreciated for its inner beauty.