The Fresh Appeal of Intimacy and Sexuality - An Interview with Helen Beard
Sex has been depicted in painting for centuries, more then often if was suggested instead of being painted unapologetically in bright and vivid color. Artist and .ART adopter Helen Beard isn't shying away when she paints. Her paintings are raw, unafraid and bold, they also present a fresh perspective on sex, the one of a woman celebrating erotic experiences.
Featured image: Installation View. 21st Century Women, 2018 at Unit London
Her works have been featured in many exhibitions including Damien Hirst’s Newport Gallery in London. She has been interviewed numerous times and the curiosity about her work and her motivation is enduring. With Helen, we chatted art, inspiration, color, playboy and much more. Let’s dive into the world of Helen Beard.
How do you qualify your artistic practice?
I mainly work in oil paint but my studies are always acrylic on board. Beyond painting, I also work in sculpture and tapestry: translating my paintings into woven surfaces.
What is the inspiration to your art?
I am interested in creating a dialogue about female sexuality and desire . I think it has always been seen as secondary and it is important we talk about it in an open way. Lots of women have a joyous experience of sex and I hope to convey this in my work.
What would you answer to the people who see your art as purely sexual and provocative? You described it as erotic while some other see is as pornographic – what is the difference?
Although I use pornography as source material, I abstract the image to create a mass of forms. I also use colour as part of this abstraction process, so that when you encounter my paintings, you are unsure whether it is your eyes playing games! It also leaves it open to interpretation – people have a very individual response to my work.
How does the tight framing of your images allow you to develop? What about the impact of the color pallet that is very pop, bold and bright?
Colour is incredibly important to me and vital to my process. One particular hue informs the next and so on…It is like composing music – there is a harmony and I know a painting is working when the colours sing together. There is often a frisson between two colours that I feel can describe the sensations of two bodies when they come together and create electricity!
One of your pieces was created for Playboy, which is ‘’an American men’s lifestyle and entertainment magazine,’’ but which has been openly criticized in recent years, how this came to be and why did you accept, as a woman artist, to be included in the magazine?
The current iteration of Playboy is really quite different to the magazine that I remember from years ago and when they contacted me, the team I worked with were all women, they were genuinely keen to explore female sexuality, and it felt like renaissance of the brand. What better way of informing men about women’s feelings about sex, than to have my work in a men’s magazine? The image that I produced for them, ‘Song of Self’ is about female self-pleasure – it’s all about women taking ownership of their sexuality.
How has your fifteen-year career as an assistant art director in the film industry influenced your art practice?
Certainly, my work has been described as ‘cinematic’ and I think the use of photographs as source material and the cropping of images, is informed by my past working on film sets.
Do you work differently depending on the medium you are using as you are producing paintings, prints, collages as well as sculpture or needle point?
Many of my paintings are large-scale, so there is a physicality inherent in producing them. I have to move around a a lot, climb ladders and look at them from different viewpoints, so my practice is very active. When I work on tapestries it is much quieter, closer work. But I always have music playing, whatever I am working on. Collaborations, for edition and more mainstream public, are more and more frequent in your work, why is this important to you?
I really enjoy the process of translating my paintings to other mediums. I am lucky enough to work with some brilliant printers (K2), and Sarah Lewis from felt culture has made some incredible bags based upon my paintings and they are lovely collaborative projects. I am working on a woodcut at the moment with Atelier Ji and it is interesting to see how the wood veneers change the surface of the print, I am looking forward to seeing the final results.
You have two a books of your work, a monograph titled The Desire Path, and a book which is a companion to the eponym exhibition True Colors can you tell us how this came to be and how was the process to get there, including working with writers for the texts, publishers and the image selection? What did you learn from the process?
It was a really interesting journey producing The Desire Path, as this was an early career retrospective. Looking at all the images of my work produced to date allowed me to be more reflective and to see how my work has developed. It was beautifully designed by Alex Daniels and has a lovely, tactile linen cover. There was also a limited edition version with a slipcase and print. It is a very precious book.
What do you hope to see in 2023 in the art world?
The continued championing of women and cultural diversity in art. It is very exciting that artists that have been ignored for so long are finally getting recognition.
What piece of advice would you want to give to the other artists?
Give yourself time to experiment, I am trying to allow myself this at the moment.
Anything else you would like to add?
My current exhibition: ‘The Tulips Are Too Excitable, It Is Winter Here ‘ is currently showing at Reflex Gallery and The Residence, Amsterdam until 23rd February 2023.
– The greatest influence in your life (person, theory, model…): My family
– An object you can’t live without – I am moving house at the moment and everything I own is in storage. It’s made me realise I can live without most things! But skincare is something that would be hard to live without, specifically my moisturiser!
– Favorite book this is hard there are so many. I like female writers. Recently I have enjoyed Rachel Cusk, Lisa Taddeo, Avni Doshi, Jessica Au. But Anais Nin’s – Little Birds set me off on my desire path at the age of fourteen. So let’s go with that.
– When I say “art”, what if your first thought? Colour – it is all important in the art I choose to live with and in my own work.
-What’s your idea of happiness? Painting in the warmth of the sun.
Your favorite art moment? It was pretty special seeing my work at Newport Street Gallery for the first time, juxtaposed with some art legends like Francis Bacon and Patrick Caulfield.
About Helen Beard
Helen Beard (b. 1971, Birmingham, UK) studied at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design and went on to have a fifteen year career as an assistant art director in the film industry. During this time, Helen continued with her artistic practice, working in the diverse mediums of paint, collage and needlepoint.
Her work vibrates with movement and colour in a celebration of the erotic experience. Using a vibrant palette and an ever changing framework: from close-crops to wide shots, to create a landscape of intimacy. Her paintings are a textural fusion between form and colour, utilising sinuous brush strokes in a motion akin to stroking skin.
Since 2000, she has exhibited in numerous group shows, including ‘Simulation Skin’ and ‘True Colours’ at Newport Street Gallery. Solo shows include ‘It’s Her Factory’ at UNIT London and her first international exhibition, ‘The Desire Path’ at Reflex Amsterdam.
Helen’s work has recently been translated into a series of silkscreen prints, produced with UNIT Drops, Reflex Amsterdam and Paul Stolper Gallery. She has also collaborated with Felt Culture to produce two limited-edition bags featuring her paintings.
Visit www.helenbeard.art to discover more about her and her work!