Unit London present It’s Her Factory, the largest solo exhibition to date by British, Brighton-based contemporary artist, Helen Beard. The exhibition introduces a new body of Beard’s large-scale, vibrant works that examines contemporary portrayals of sexuality.
In a world that promotes sexuality and relationships through idealised and arguably unrealistic body expectations, Beard’s kaleidoscopic oil and acrylic paintings reclaim ownership over depictions of the body from the predominant male gaze. With their graphic depictions of explicit sex acts and entwined bodies, the paintings confront the viewer, forcing the audience to engage with the scenes on the artist’s terms.
The new works focus particularly on female self-pleasure, body positivity and empowerment. In paintings such as The Seducer (2019) and Poetry in Motion (2019), sanitised, chauvinistic representations of lust are replaced by intimate portrayals of the female form.
In recent years, Beard has also expanded her practice to document queer intimacy, ensuring that all types of sexuality and sexual activity, particularly those often censored in the media, are allocated due attention. The artist aims to foster conversations and a sense of openness around our bodies through her practice, emphasising that an individual’s power and authority over their body rests solely in themselves.
The composition of Beard’s imagery, which principally focuses on close crops of the body, draws heavily on the artist’s 15-year career in the film industry. It was during this time that Beard studied the ways cinematographers frame their shots, especially the tight angles and zoomed-in focus they employ to imbue an image with tension and sense of narrative.
Beard’s application of oil paint draws on these feelings of intimacy and desire. Though the canvases appear as blocks of colour from afar, their surfaces are abundant with rich textures that mimic the ripples and suppleness of human flesh. In the artist’s words, it is “like fingers stroking the skin”.
It’s Her Factory runs from 7 September – 6 October