Helen Beard Celebrates Female Sexuality And Desire In Vibrant Colour

Helen Beard: Illicit Kisses
Illicit Kisses 2020 | Oil on canvas | 1500mm x 1300mm
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British contemporary artist Helen Beard is well known for her celebration of female sexuality and desire, a subject matter that male artists have critiqued for centuries. Beard’s work shatters the male perspective and stigma surrounding female sexuality in a very avant-garde manner.

Based on close-ups of erotic images, Beard presents the female form in an abstract aesthetic, intricately shaped and vibrantly coloured; the consequences are bold, beautiful imagery that radiates an alluring yet provocative visual pleasure that leaves a long-lasting impression on all who’ve had the pleasure of viewing it. In the art world, these are known as statement pieces.

Helen Beard
Image couresty of the artist © Jo Thorne Photography

I think it is important that women are unapologetic about their needs, which are all too often overlooked. I wanted to express sex in a joyous way, without shame.

Helen Beard

Beard is a versatile artist, working in diverse mediums such as painting, collage, and needlepoint. She is also a curator and has co-curated “Sensitive Content” at Unit London with art historians Alayo Akinkugbe and Maria Elena Buszek.

The exhibition theme is focused on artists who have been censored for their work’s feminist, anti-racist or queer content, and protest against censorship is integral to their practice. The exhibition includes work from Beard herself, who has faced censorship of her practice on social platforms, as well as works from Pussy Riot, Betty Tompkins, Renee Cox, Xiao Lu and Renate Bertlman and more.

We caught up with Beard during Sensitive Content to learn more about her practice, inspiration and curatorial approach to the exhibition.

Sensitive Content is on at Unit London until 16 October 2022

Q: Hi Helen! How are you doing? Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Can you please introduce yourself for those who do not know you?

Helen Beard: Hi, I am a multi-media artist, most known for my large-scale oil paintings that celebrate female sexuality and desire in vibrant colours.

Helen Beard - Each Peach Pear Plum
Helen Beard – Each Peach Pear Plum
Q: Can you tell us how you started in arts, how art has played a role in your life, and why you decided to become an artist?

Helen Beard: I worked in the film industry and then spent time bringing up my family, but I always made art alongside my other pursuits. As my children became older, I started painting more seriously. I don’t think I decided to be an artist, I just made work, but when Damien Hirst saw some large-scale paintings I had made and bought one, it changed things. When he saw it in the flesh, he loved it and commissioned me to make some more. He then staged a show of 3 women artists from his collection, True Colours, at Newport Street Gallery, and this led to lots of amazing opportunities allowing me to concentrate on my practice.

Helen Beard: Big Night In
Helen Beard: Big Night In Image
Courtesy of the artist ©Helen Beard
Q: You have a diverse practice working across various mediums, from painting to collage to needlepoint. And your work often celebrates eroticism and sexuality in explicit depictions. Can you tell us more about your inspirations, creative process, and what drives your art?

Helen Beard: Like most artists, I am driven by my own experience, I wanted to celebrate a woman’s desire and sexuality, and the work came out of that. I think it is important that women are unapologetic about their needs, which are all too often overlooked. I wanted to express sex in a joyous way, without shame.

Q: Sensitive Content at Unit London explores the work of artists who have all faced censorship in their careers and examines the courageous ways they have resolved to create work from nuanced perspectives on sex, beauty and politics, despite censorship. You co-curated this exhibition alongside art historians Alayo Akinkugbe and Maria Elena Buszek. Can you tell us more about the exhibition, your curatorial approach, and what it was like working with Alayo and Maria?

Helen Beard: I was so lucky to persuade Maria and Alayo to work on this with me. They are both brilliant academics and have a wide knowledge of art history which is really important. We all put forward people we thought would be good for the show, and we were very fortunate that we all had the same vision for the show.

We made sure to keep the topic of censorship as broad as possible. But our one criteria that was non-negotiable was the artist had to have been censored, whether it be on social media, by an institution or government.

Helen Beard - Red Moon 2020 oil on canvas
Helen Beard – Red Moon 2020 oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist ©Helen Beard
Q: Censorship is a huge issue for artists. It can be challenging for an artist to keep their practice alive when they constantly face obstacles—having faced censorship on Instagram with yourself. Do you think enough is being done to protect freedom of expression, especially on digital platforms, and what do you think needs to change?

Helen Beard: I think platforms such as instagram can be amazing tools for artists to get their work seen; It has certainly been that way for me. But the disparity in what gets seen and what does not is clear – I don’t know how to solve it! I just know that more women, people of colour and people who identify as queer are being shadow banned, taken down and having their social media accounts closed. And that needs to change. The algorithms are clearly programmed in the majority by white men leading to an inequality of what gets seen regardless of its artistic content.

Helen Beard: Do I Dare to eat a peach
Helen Beard: Do I Dare to eat a peach
Courtesy of the artist ©Helen Beard
Q: The studio is the sacred temple of creativity. What are three things you can’t live without in your studio?

Helen Beard: Mornings sat contemplating with a view of the sea, coffee and Williamsburg oil paints.

Q: What’s next for you as an artist and a curator?

Helen Beard: I have a solo show in two spaces at Reflex Gallery Amsterdam, which I am furiously painting for at the moment. It is called The Tulips are Too Excitable, it is Winter Here, opening on November 12th. It will have around 40 works, from small studies to very large paintings.

I am also making my first woodcut which should be released later this year.

Helen Beard - New-Beginnings 2014 Handwoven needlepoint in tapestry wool
Helen Beard – New Beginnings 2014
Handwoven needlepoint in tapestry wool
Courtesy of the artist ©Helen Beard
Q: Lastly, what does art mean to you?

Helen Beard: Everything. The cultural importance of the arts is so overlooked by so many people, including by governments, the media and our state institutions. I think that without art in all its forms, society dies. It was clear that we needed books, films, and art to sustain us more than ever when the pandemic happened. I believe we should all be encouraged in our creativity.


©2022 Helen Beard, Jo Thorne Photography