On the other hand, Myth (1984) is a work that sands out in this early period precisely because its format does not lend itself to this kind of compositional artifice. Unlike almost all the other paintings from the 1980s, it is perfectly square (101 x 101 cm). There is no clear figure/ground relationship, as in the aforementioned work. The space is quite shallow, and appears to be fluctuating. The colour range is restricted to shades of blue, black and white. It is as if the decision to paint in this particular format entailed a kind of constitutive doubt about the status of the composition. Beard is not returning to the ideology of abstract expressionism: indeed the square format in itself seems to contradict any lingering impression of gestural freedom. Once again, the title (as with Beard’s work in general) provides a subtle hint about the general character of the work. Myth: that is, something deeply enshrined that underlies the manifestations of the particular. - S. BANN
Curtsey (1983) is a composition that works through a simple bilateral balance. Thee two flanking figures are in a relationship that might suggest subordination of one to the other – the obvious implication of the laconic title. But the graphic marks that make up the respective figures, while broadly suggestive of elaborate and courtly dress, do not allow us to establish which one is deferring to another. All the same, Beard’s painting is clearly not intended as a piece of social satire. It is an exploration of pictorial composition on the principle of near-symmetry. - S. BANN
In 1978 Beard made some very interesting drawings that sometimes used collaged elements and sometimes used the logic of collage without necessarily cutting and pasting materials.
Take for example, Untitled (1978), Untitled 2 (1978) and Untitled 4 (1978). These works combine elements of drawing, painting, found images, cut and torn edges: elementary explorations of the possibilities of the material he is using, including the objectification of the gesture. In Untitled 2, for example, layers of collage seem to have been torn back to reveal an archaeology of imagery. Untitled 4 moves away from collage per se but it involves an investigation into various ways of applying paint: finding its natural limits and tendencies to opacity or trans- parency, to stay where it is put or to pour off the edge in runs from the black bar bisecting the composition. These runs are a given property of wet paint but they also suggest an event observed in the external world. This is very much an exercise in understanding the materiality of his medium and in layering imagery, something that Beard pursues throughout his work.
Some drawings from 1980 extend this layering and uncovering process but without the collage. This working back into layers sometimes produces a scratchy kind of line. This is not the lyrical line of a Brett Whitely but a line that feels its way, groping with the surface of the paper and the technical qualities of the pen or pencil. This expression of difficulty seems to me to be a kind of performance of reconciling knowing with seeing. Our embodied consciousness reaches out to feel the limits of our sensibility with, at best, partial success. We can sense the motion of the pen as it struggles to express what the body feels. It is almost as if we can relive the moment not as an empathetic engagement with some internal process of the artist’s, but with this probing and scratching around in search of external reality. - A. BOND
Potato Man (1983) is one of the most complex pictures of the time even though he seems pretty solid – even sculptural. A single figure on the stage, albeit a tripartite figure. Three body/heads, three pointy hats, three legs. The body is encircled by something like a magnet or could it be the arm of a Windsor chair? It might be for protection or it might be a restraint. The figure stands on a triangular stage that is set against a seascape; its eyes stand out on stalks, or are they binoculars? If this was Bacon we might confuse them with weaponry. The sky is on fire and the horizon dissolved into blinding light. The feeling that potato man is on a stage is enhanced by the subdivision of the canvas into three vertical strips. The two narrow side panels suggest some distant, fantastic landscape, yet their attachment to the frame and their position relative to the figure and base make them act as curtains opened to reveal the splendid events within. The potato man stands backlit by the startling sky and rippling sea, while through the glare we can make out a sailing ship – there is always one of those in the Indian Ocean off Perth or Fremantle. This use of the panels seems to me to have evolved from the collage strategy I referred to earlier. It has nothing to do with naturalistic space but returns our attention to the paint and its negotiation of surface and layering of fields and figure. - A. BOND
Through the ambiguities he creates in space and surface, Beard also takes us on a phenomenological journey. The triptych Purdah (1983) continues themes of tripling and placing figures on a stage, or balancing them on unstable objects. The use of screens or curtains also operates here. Like some of Bacon’s triptychs, the space is demarcated by a curved line or horizon. The wall or space beyond that horizon is strongly textured, suggesting more of a landscape than a wall, unless of course it is wallpaper. In the right-hand panel a screen or curtain comes down across what might be taken for the distance, yet the curtain is woven into that field in places, and divisions that function as lines are in fact made up of negative space in the screen. I think it is possible here to see both traces of the early collage and the drawings from the late 1970s. This puzzling treatment of figure and field, and field within field, has a curious similarity with Anselm Kiefer’s impossible spatial applications, in that they both raise perceptual issues in relation to our visual field. - A. BOND
Beard’s The Agent (1984) takes a turn towards a more normal configuration of the body compared to Potato Man, but in other ways the space is equally weird, and bears similarities to Kiefer’s spatial paradoxes. the agent seems to walk across the waters of Sydney Harbour with the Opera House mid-left. What constitutes sea, mid-distance and sky is far from clear. These divisions of the canvas seem more about providing a space for some painterly virtuosity than representing actual space. This virtuos- ity almost incidentally brings the components of the composition into a firm allegiance with the surface. On the right of the figure three cocoons float in space. One of them appears to be in the process of giving rise to an imago, or fully formed butterfly. Could this possibly be read as a metaphor for the artist heading East in search of artistic rebirth? The figure is however marching blind- ly towards what appears to be an elegantly coiled turd. I doubt if it is anything that literal, but it is the kind of reading Beard opens up through his scattering of obviously symbolic forms in front of fantastical fields. - A. BOND