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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