The “subject is as much painting itself as the object he renders.” Through Beard’s unique rendition of objects and subjects, he questions the very notions of authenticity in painting and the representation of image. Beard’s artistic practice explores concepts of sight and vision, perception and illusion. The paintings’ surfaces, after first inspection and then upon closer viewing, evolve over time; subtleties come to light in the layers of waxy paint and forms materialise taking on new shapes and deeper meanings.
“It is certainly not just a matter of ‘reductive’ or ‘additive’ processes, of choosing between ‘heavily encrusted surfaces’ or thin layers of paint. It is a question throughout of maintaining the picture plane against the threat of disintegration. This is the constant objective that underlies Beard’s resourceful mode of painting.”
(Stephen Bann, “Saving the Plane”, John Beard Other Faces, Fine Art Society, London, 2007)
From the mid 1990’s onwards, Beard’s work has been dominated by two complementary modes of subject matter – landscape and portraiture. During his extended stay in Portugal in the early 1990’s, he began to produce a series of paintings in which the majestic rocky outcrop of Adraga in a constantly shifting sea invariably formed the central motif. Beard states: “The rock has an impregnable majesty, a lifeless finality animate and metamorphosed through light. The light reveals the energy and force of the sea – an orchestration of submission and reaffirmation. A continuum of resolution and dissolution of an image.” (John Beard, 1994) Beard’s intensity of focus on the singularity of the form, transformed an inanimate rock into an identity.
“The sea was like pigment, I realised when I started painting. I realised that paint to me was really like the sea. There’s this pliable material that could be thick and lumpy, solid like a trough of water, or it could be vaporous, frothy like the crash of a wave. It could be opaque or it could be transparent; all of these different qualities. It could be still, just shimmering, it could be moving so quickly that you felt there was an incredible vibrancy about it. The totality of this experience of rock and water had this evanescence, which you felt; it came right up to you, to the top of the cliff.” (John Beard, “The Nomad and the Sea”, Australian Art Collector, issue 62, 2012, p154)
T.Bond Catalogue essay Self Portraits and the Rock (2002) described
Born in Aberdare, Wales in 1943, John Beard studied at the University of London and the Royal College of Art. He has held numerous solo exhibitions and participated in group shows around the world including HEAD On: Art with the Brain in Mind at the Science Museum, London (2002), Painting the Century, 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000 at the National Portrait Gallery, London (2000), and the Possibilities of Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra (1999). Beard’s solo exhibitions include Visao Fugitiva at the Gulbenkian's Centro de Arte Moderna, Lisbon (2005-2006), an installation in 1999 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales of selected works from Beard's solo exhibition, After Adraga, which was shown at the Tate Gallery, St Ives, UK (1998) and Heads Phase I and II, a Level 2 Contemporary Project at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (1999). Beard has also held solo exhibitions in India, USA, Spain and New Zealand.
In 2005 Beard was awarded a major grant from the Pollock Krasner Foundation. In 2006 he won the Art Gallery of New South Wales Wynne Prize and the Kedumba Contemporary
Drawing Award, was invited to participate in the Australian Drawing Biennale and made a Visiting Professorial Fellow at the College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales, Sydney. In 2007 he won the Art Gallery of New South Wales 2007 Archibald Prize for Portrait Painting. In 2009 Beard held a part survey exhibition, Headlands 1993-2007 (curated by William Wright) at the Australian National University Drill Hall Gallery and exhibited in Gesichtslos-Die Malerei des Diffusen (Faceless-The Art of Diffusion) Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Germany 2009/2010. In February 2010, was appointed a trustee of The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.
A major monograph was published in 2011. As the first documentation of John Beard’s work, this definitive monograph provides a visual chronology of Beard’s work from 1978-2011. Featuring a highly original design presentation and exacting production standards, this beautifully created book contains essays by Stephen Bann and Anthony Bond with an introduction by Charles Saumarez Smith. Their sympathetic and comprehensive appraisal of Beard’s art is complimented by over 300 reproductions spanning the artist’s 40-year career.
Beard’s work has been collected by major Australian and international public and private institutions including National and State Galleries across Australia, the Gulbenkian's Centro de Arte Moderna in Lisbon, Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London. Beard lives in Sydney and is represented by John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne, Liverpool Street Gallery, Sydney. He has previously held several solo and group exhibitions at The Fine Art Society Gallery, London. Earlier in 2012, Beard exhibited with Hales Gallery, London, where he presented a solo exhibition of selected works from 1992-2012. Consequently, a major museum in the United Kingdom is in the process of acquiring several of these works. Most recently beard held a solo show at the FAS Contemporary in london and simultaneously was represented in the ‘AUSTRALIA’ exhibition at London’s Royal Academy.