In order to appreciate Beards unique style of painting, as is the case with any acclaimed artwork, it is important to understand the context from whence it came.
John Beard, much like many of our favoured Australian artists from the same era, is an adopted Australian who made his way down and across the continents until settling, at first in Perth, and later Sydney – where he remains today.
Born in Aberdare, Wales, in 1943 he is a by-product of his Celtic ancestry, nurtured by an“ancient, often ravaged, perennially colonised … land of mines and chapels. The visual imprint is of an interminably grey place where silver skies merge and mingle with laden seas. It is a place where time past and present is inextricably intertwined, where the young Beard began to experience the world, his cultural endowment full of the old and the new.” (Wright, 2009, p. 663)
After receiving the Welsh National Art Scholarship at the age of 19, Beard studied at the Swansea College of Art and later studied at the University of London, and the Royal College of Art, London.
In 1965 he won the British Arts Council International Prize and Commission. He taught in the UK extensively before making his way in 1983 to Curtin University – or the Western Australian Institute of Technology, as it was known at the time – where he became the Senior Lecturer, Head of Painting.
Beard spent six years in WA, and it was in his last year here that this monotype Untitled I was produced. It came after a period of great success and warm regard in the artistic community in Perth, where he produced massive works out of his Fremantle studio the likes of The Gods (1984-85),a massive landscape as viewed from the perspective of the outsider now in the collection of the University of Western Australia.
His large scale works produced in the mid 80’s exhibit the interest he had in neo-expressionism at the time, blurring the boundaries between abstraction and figuration which he well accomplished, however, this monotype produced four years later – during the year that he resigned from Curtin University to pursue a travelling sabbatical from Australia to Portugal, New York, Lisbon and all over – reveals a transformation in his style, one that he would fully accomplish during his time in Adraga.
It shows a shift from the heavy impasto works that he was already becoming noted for, towards an expression of interest in the nature of the paint and medium he was using, an exploration of the ways in which he could apply his innate reception of landscape and nature in new and compelling ways.
He would come to note, in Adraga, that “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 through 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.”
Beard returned to Australia in the late 90’s and settled in Sydney, the accomplished artist has since won the Archibald and Wynne prize among many others. He has perpetually challenged his style and medium and continues to produce the work of an artist whose eye has traversed and encompassed a worldly view that few achieve in a lifetime.
Wright, W. (2009). Headland. Art & Australia, 661-667.