The Arts Company | February 3–22
WORDS Margaret F.M. Walker
Whether working in paint, ink, video, or prose, Alex Beard is in all things a storyteller. These tales take many forms—straightforward and narrative or meandering and conversational—but at the root all are about nature, animals, and man’s relationship with them. The self-termed “abstract naturalism” that makes his visual art so distinctive is about “the interconnected way that things in nature move and operate in concert with each other.” Beard has found that focusing on animals as a metonym for nature and approaching his subject with abstract forms that twist and weave create opportunities for viewers to dig deeper into both his compositions and wider issues of conservation.
Beard’s artwork usually begins with a gestural line or splatter of ink. From there shapes take form. While these compositions are flattened in the manner characteristic of abstract art, there is depth in the overlapping and weaving of forms and patterns otherwise recognizable as belonging to distinct animals. The embellished print of The Painting of Life is an excellent example of this. For instance, the form of the zebra on the lower right is broken up by that of alligators, monkeys, and more. Similarly, the central giraffe shares its bit of the scene with a dolphin, antelope, and something tusked. After deciphering the colors and patterns we associate with animals, one will step back to observe the overwhelming movement within this work dominated by curves and swirls. This fluid motion acts as a compositional reminder of how all of these animals are connected, and the curvy continuation of the design onto the mat brings it out, asking for our involvement as well.
“The technique is to start with abstract expressionism and to then pull nature back out of it. This is a story that does not have an ending. It asks: Why are we here? What are we? How do we perceive ourselves in relation to our surroundings? It is a conversation we’ve been having for thousands of years …
While the swirling lines in Beard’s works are created freehand, many have their roots in the Golden Spiral. Of it, the artist writes in the introduction to A Brush with Nature that “the eye is naturally drawn to the diminishing point of the spiral and so can be used as the underpinnings of good composition. That is to say that if the most dramatic moment of a painting falls where the eye wants to go on its own, the result is likely to be more dynamic.” It makes all the more sense for Beard’s naturalist inclinations, too, since Golden Spirals and their cousins—the Fibonacci Spiral and the Nautilus Spiral—occur naturally in everything from rhinoceros horns to flower petals to the geometries of hurricane winds. The Suyian Swirl incorporates this compositional effect, where necks, horns, trunks, and tails all work in tandem to form this natural shape and remind us of where it can be seen in the world around us.
Yet Beard balances this heavily mathematical element with whimsical paint splatters as well. Take, for instance, the crest itself of Red Crested Crane, which purposefully lacks the precision found throughout the rest of the work. The artist’s choice to place it compositionally in the middle top of the image, betwixt two raised wings, adds further upward energy to the piece. In this work, the expressive crest is reflective of Beard’s often non-narrative storytelling, of which he says, “The technique is to start with abstract expressionism and to then pull nature back out of it. This is a story that does not have an ending. It asks: Why are we here? What are we? How do we perceive ourselves in relation to our surroundings? It is a conversation we’ve been having for thousands of years, one in which the viewer brings something to the table.”
When admiring the intricate detail of a work such as this and the thoughtful geometric abstraction of others, one may think of medieval illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. This visual connection is conceptually apropos, as much of Beard’s work has revolved around making and illustrating books and they inform much of his artistic thought process.
Some of Beard’s visual art, video, and literary creations are connected with his Watering Hole Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving intact systems, helping save endangered wildlife and Earth’s remaining wilderness. His art, whether directly related to the foundation or not, is all focused on these same principles and on continuing this conversation. He says of the relationship that “it’s a way to contribute to a cause I care about, using the tools and skills that I have.”
Enjoy a preview of Alex Beard’s art at The Arts Company in September. His solo exhibit Abstract Naturalism: An Exhibition of Art & Nature is scheduled for February 3 through February 22, 2018, at The Arts Company. See more of Beard’s work at www.alexbeardstudio.com. For more information, visit www.theartscompany.com.