John Beard’s 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. 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. Through Beard’s unique rendition of objects and subjects, he questions the very notions of authenticity in painting and the representation of image.
Curator Anthony Bond describes Beard as an important contemporary painter whose works “maintain a dynamic tension in seductive images that investigate the structures of representation.” Speaking to the relationship between Beard’s iconic self-portraits and his Adraga series, Bond goes on to say “this rock, surrounded by sea in all its moods, seemed to entrance [Beard] for several years. In the ‘Adraga’ series, it first became clear that the rock had become a figure or a head. John makes no concessions to mimetic suggestions of anthropomorphism, it is simply the intensity of the focus on the singularity of the form that makes an inanimate rock into an identity. … In part, this is a kinaesthetic effect of light on the surface that requires the viewer to move with the work and the direction of the light. They are more alive to variations of lighting than most pictures I have seen.”
John Beard was born in Aberdare, Wales in 1943. Beard studied at the University of London and the Royal College of Art, followed by a distinguished teaching career in England and Australia. In 1983, Beard arrived in Western Australia where he became Head of Fine Art at Curtin University in Perth. In 1989, he was awarded an Australian Council Fellowship and resigned from teaching in order to devote his full attention to his practice. He travelled extensively, living and exhibiting in New York, Madrid, Lisbon and London before establishing a Sydney base in 1997.
Beard’s work has been exhibited worldwide and is held in the collections of major international public galleries, museums and private institutions. His oeuvre has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Tate St Ives in the UK, The Gulbenkian Centro de Arte Moderna in Lisbon, Kunsthalle Darmstadt in Germany, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Australia. ‘Wanretganui Heads’ was also selected to represent the year ‘1998’ in The London National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Painting the Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000′. Notably, he has been awarded the Pollock-Krasner Award (New York) and has won both the AGNSW’s Wynne Prize and Archibald Prize.
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