Helen Beard’s True Colours

03.07.2018 | Art | BY:

Damien Hirst’s most recent exhibition True Colours at his private museum, Newport Street Gallery, shines a light on three female artists Boo Saville, Sadie Laska and Helen Beard as it examines each of their unique explorations into the possibility of colour, form and subject. Twin Factory had the opportunity to speak with Helen Beard on her inclusion in the show.  

Hirst initially commissioned Beard to make a selection of large works last summer, she explains; “It wasn’t until he asked me to make some more works recently that I realised he wanted to show them at Newport Street Gallery.” Hirst’s generous offering of his Peckham and Gloucester studio’s allowed Beard to make her largest pieces to date; 

“I have really enjoyed working at a bigger scale, it adds something to the work, gives it a power. I do really like working at a smaller scale too though. ‘’Each, Peach, Pear, Plum’ (2017)’ is one of the smallest works in the show but it is one of my favourites. I will need a bigger studio if I continue to make big works though, I am running out of space!”

Helen Beard ‘Blue Valentine’, 2016 | courtesy of Newport Street Gallery

Situated partly between representation and abstraction, Beard makes it clear she doesn’t like to chose between either when it comes to discussing her work; “I like both. I started with abstraction because it was less direct, less revealing.” Centred around themes that examine gender, sexual psychology and eroticism. Her vivid rainbow palette of primary colours have in fact been taken from explicit found imagery. The bright, bold colours of Beard’s works lure you in, like a moth to a flame, until it becomes apparent, rather abruptly, that the abstract patterns are in fact cropped and edited pornographic images. As well as the internet, Beard often uses magazines and photographs as part of her process when sourcing material for her practice; 

I draw and work out the composition in small studies and then I also work out the colours at small scale, it saves the paint becoming too thick and the colour losing its vibrancy, but I am not always true to the study if I mix a better colour with the oils I am happy to change them and I often change the drawing with the paint too.”

Beard chooses to work with sexual imagery as a way of subverting the male gaze, something she has focused on since becoming an artist and studying Graphics at Bournemouth and Poole college of design (1990-1992); 

I have always painted sex, it has always fascinated me how closed people are when it comes to talking about it. I think it is important for women to express themselves. Sex is such a fundamental in our psyche after all, and art always comes back to those big ideas like sex and death.

As we see in True Colours, Beard’s practice is multidisciplinary, as she works across a selection of mediums that include painting, collage and tapestry. She explains that this is a conscious choice; “It is so exciting to work with various materials all the time, I collect a lot of stuff in my studio, like most artists do and then wait for an idea of how to use it.” 

Installation View, ‘True Colours’, Helen Beard | courtesy of Newport Street Gallery

Her use of needlework is striking and unique, as seen in the mid-sized tapestry ‘Can we Conceive of Humanity if it did not Know the Flowers?’ (2014) with its pretty pink stitches that brilliantly contrast with the subversive subject matter. Beard explains that she began to use needlework because of her grandmothers lessons in the technique rather than for its strong associations with the feminine and domesticity; 

I don’t think it was a conscious thing to use needlepoint because of it being a female pastime, but I was very conscious that I didn’t want to make the traditional images associated with embroidery or needlepoint, the chocolate box, kittens in a basket, type stuff. So I just used the imagery I was painting.

Since it’s opening, True Colour’s has been praised for its strong aesthetic and positive representation of female painters, with impressive reviews that includes fours stars from Time Out. As an artist who openly wants to celebrate sex from her point of view and strongly advocates that there is no shame in doing so, Beard is pleased with the positive reaction shown by the general public; “its been so well received and so well covered in the press, I am actually quite surprised by how much people love it.” 

 

True Colour’s is on show at Newport Street Gallery until Sunday September 9th 

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Natural and animalistic: Twin meets jewellery maker Rebecca Onyett

11.03.2018 | Blog | BY:

Rebecca Ellis Onyett’s jewellery (REO Jewels) personifies everything that she stands for: it is unapologetically raw, natural, bold, elegant and visually strong. Like most young creatives looking to explore their craft and talent, having completed her degree at UCA in Silver and Goldsmithing Onyett came to London to carve out a career for herself. She spent the first two working in Harrods and Selfridges for jeweller Shaun Leane, until she felt that the experience and knowledge she had gained from this time was strong enough for her to formulate her own brand. Five years on, Onyett has created a mini empire where her brand recognition is growing steadily, as is her international following.

Speaking with Twin, Onyett explained the ethos behind REO jewels; I think it has always been the same, since the beginning. I’ve always just wanted to make jewellery that’s nature driven and animalistic in a sexy couture way. To be worn by strong women and men who feel free to express themselves by wearing something a bit different. For me it goes back to our ancestors who wore animal bones and skins to express their primitive strength. After all, we all were once animals ourselves.

This drive to make jewellery that places a strong focus on nature and animals comes from her experiences as a child, growing up in the Kentish countryside, constantly surrounded by the natural elements. I have always loved to be around nature and growing up spent a lot of time  both in the woods near my house but also along the Kentish coastline due to my father’s love for nature and always taking me for long woodland walks or beachcombing. From a very young age I always knew I was an artist. I always loved using my hands and after experimenting at Plymouth university in 3D design I found myself engrossed in a jewellery making evening class, which is when I knew I had found my calling. After finishing my degree at UCA in Silver and Goldsmithing I definitely felt a call to move to London and try and make a name for myself there.

While her time in London was critical to the success of REO Jewels, Onyett’s love of the city was starting to wane as she became more and more aware of its rushed quality of life and the realities all Londoner’s face; property development and gentrification. These became a catalyst for her move to the small Kentish seaside town of Margate; 5 years on, with a huge wealth of experience, new friendships and a mark made in the jewellery industry I started to fall out of love with London. I just felt that my quality of life was less than it had been after having to leave my huge studio due to development work and I felt the need for change. I mentioned this to other artist friends and Margate became a recurring theme. I decided to take a trip there as I had never visited before. As soon as I did, I knew I wanted to move there. I think that’s the thing with Margate you either get it or you don’t. And I got it.

Reo Jewels | Jenna Foxton

Having now lived in the seaside town for two years, Rebecca discusses what she loves most about it; the space, the fact that I have a home I can call my own and a new studio that is cheap and big. The skyline, something about Margate skies really does soothe the soul. The pace, everyone in London is in such a hurry that they miss out on life. You don’t even realise it until you leave but I was so caught up in having to make money that I forgot to enjoy the simple things. For Rebecca, REO jewels is both her work and passion, it is all-consuming, which means she tries to have moments separate from the business. With this in mind, she mentions Feral Sistas, a project she has started working on with her best friend. Throughout the summer the duo will travel around the UK to summer festivals in their 29 year old Bedford Rascal campervan hosting creative workshops, which will include jewellery making and life drawing. Onyett explains how the project naturally came to fruition through their shared love of meeting and engaging with new people on a creative and fun yet also productive level.

As for many small businesses, Instagram has been  instrumental in the growth of REO. Onyett’s beautifully curated profile, has been invaluable for the brand. It showcases her most popular products,  arguably her signet rings as well as the bespoke commissions she regularly receives. It is a godsend. I have a lot of sales through it and it’s a free platform to advertise. I’d like to think that not long from now I won’t need a website and I can do all my sales through it.

Sparrow Claw Pearl Earrings, £100

While in time it may not be necessary for Onyett to have a website, she will always depend on Hatton Garden for sourcing her materials. When we discuss the topic of gender equality within the jewellery world, she touches on London’s jewellery district and why she feels it is still so old school and relatively sexist; I suppose it is this way because there are not many women employees, especially in trade jobs. It is predominantly male and even the men my age working there have learnt the trade from being an apprentice. But from my time, university degrees seem to have produced mainly female contemporary jewellers (whether they are full on makers or just designers is a whole other point). So it seems to depend on your background , but saying that if you were female and couldn’t afford to do a course or a degree I think you’d find it hard to get an apprenticeship in Hatton garden.

Raised Bee Signet Mix, £75

For Onyett, having full control over her life is the most important part of working for herself. With this in mind, she credits her father for teaching her about the importance of a strong work ethic and describes him as her biggest inspiration. When asked who on the contemporary scene she would like to see wearing REO Jewels Rebecca’s response again embodies what she stands for; an individual who instinctively avoids the status quo; There isn’t really anyone current who I can think of but if I was making my jewels in a different time I’d say Janis Joplin or Courtney Love. Travelling, especially road tripping across America, and observing the reaction of a customer when they first see her work, are what make her most happy. You can find REO jewels on Broadway Market every Saturday from 9AM-4PM. If at first you cant find Onyett’s stand, listen out for and then follow the loud laugh, and that’s where she will be.

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The politics of the Body: Twin meets Ranny Cooper

27.02.2018 | Art | BY:

Artist Ranny Cooper examines and explores the female form as a way of addressing issues around self identity and discovery. She shifts our usual associations away from sex and provocation and asks us instead to focus on the ways in which the body is bound in objectification and intrusion, yet also in admiration and desire. Cooper uses her own body as her muse as it has been a positive way for her to address the issues she faces with her own body politics. Inspired by Jenny Saville and her portrayal of the body and all of its fluid forms, Cooper enjoys celebrating this idea of the grotesquely beautiful. In her series ‘Unbound’, the minimal, fluid lines and colours of Cooper’s mix media drawings offer a thoughtful and sensitive representation of the female form. Her use of leatherwear highlights the friction between submission and empowerment as she depicts the action, restrictions and effects of harnesses as a means of representing the duality of lust and scrutiny that women’s bodies are subjected to.

Ranny Cooper, Unbound

Originally from Brighton, Cooper has been based in East London’s Hackney for the last five years, where she spent the first three at London College of Fashion studying Fashion Illustration. The product of a rather bohemian and idyllic childhood, Cooper thinks this may be where her openness towards nudity came from and why she doesn’t feel that her sexuality defines her. I don’t know if I am defined by my sexuality, but know that I address it very boldly. I have always been very sexually open with my body. I grew up in an extremely naked household – it is a good way for me to express how I am feeling as a women. A lot of people see my work and think of it in very black and white terms, as simply sexual, open and in your face. But when you understand the meaning behind it, it is actually very personal. So, it is about sexuality but the point is there is also much more behind the surface.

Cooper acknowledges that the personal element to her work is varied depending on the series she is focusing on. While she always uses the body as her canvas and main subject, the motives behind her use of it are diverse.With my body print series I was expressing different emotions that I felt when I was life modelling. When you are exposed to a crowd of people and you are nude it encourages a range of emotions and I would find so many different thoughts running through my head. It really does boil down to each individual pose having a unique emotion that comes with it. Then when it came to my series ‘Unbound’, I was addressing the misconceptions people often have around sexuality, especially when it comes to the use of leather and harnesses. I involved the harness as a means of highlighting the importance of control for women when it comes to their bodies, which can be both a positive and negative in todays society.

Over the last few weeks, Cooper has started working on a new project, ‘Dismemberment’. In this series she fragments the body. The project merges different parts of the anatomy to explore the cross section between where the human form goes from the sight of desire to the sight of grotesque. Cooper explains how she is taking a new direction with her use of the body as a canvas and her growing obsession with how different angles can make the figure look almost distorted. This project is a little less sexual in a way as it focuses on dismembered and deconstructed figures. I have always been interested in the body looking distorted and out of worldly in a way, which transpired into this idea of how the body can go from a site of desire to a site of grotesque. With this project I still use the naked body but by dismembering it I wish to express the chaos we are often faced with when we let our thoughts run away with us, highlighting the confusion and madness that the mind often provokes.

As Cooper readdresses her practice through the altered perception she now places on the body, she discusses how she defines beauty:

I believe that it is completely in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think there is a typical ideal of beauty. For me, beauty comes from weakness and imperfection. Like art, it is totally subjective and I really don’t think it can be defined any more. Obviously you have ideals that the media represents to people of how we should look, which is a big issue. When I started doing such figurative drawings, initially I focused on slender beautiful women but gradually this made me feel more and more uncomfortable so I started using myself as my own reference – that really made me target issues I had with myself and helped me come to terms with them. I don’t think beauty is a definition I think it is a perception.

Ranny Cooper, Unbound

With this idea of beauty as perception rooted in subjectivity, Ranny explains how Hans Bellmer, Louise Bourgeois and Jean Cocteau have been lifelong inspirations for her. Likewise, the minimalist linear drawings by Austrian artist Egon Schiele and Mapplethorpe’s fetishistic yet sensual images have been important artistic sources. More recently, she credits the work of photographer Maisie Cousins, whose zoomed images of the female body taken from the series ‘grass, peonies, bum’ are some of her favourites. While Ranny is keen to explore the possibility of living somewhere like Berlin, given it’s notably liberal attitudes within youth culture, she has decided to dedicate the next two years to nurturing her practice here in London. Ranny Cooper will be showing her new series ‘Dismemberment’ at Cafe 119 throughout April. In the meantime, you can follow her practice and intense obsession with poached eggs via her Instagram @rannycooper. 

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