Interview with Jenny Beard

Jenny Beard is a painter originally from Barnsley, Yorkshire. She studied at Leeds Arts University, and now works from her studio in the heart of Leeds. Her painting process is built upon automatic drawing, and using digital tools to create and manipulate sketches. Abstract imagery is used to explore optical space, depth, and flatness. Her work is open ended and explorative, dealing with the paradox of appropriating abstract marks for abstract paintings. During this mimetic experience, the work could be read as representational.

Reset// approached Jenny for an interview after viewing a film about her practice, in which she commented that she thinks about themes such as gender, class, and the North-South divide when painting. This film can be found here.

Cascade I, oil on canvas, 142 x 184cm

Cascade II, oil on canvas, 142 x 184cm

Can you give explanation as to your process? How do you go from idea to finished piece?


JB - I begin with automatic drawing, using traditional mediums. This is where the work is most emotive. I then recreate the sketch on my iPad, to give myself some ‘distance’ from the image and to apply some digital style to the motifs and marks - put them through a digital filter in a way. This digital sketch is then recreated traditionally, to bring it full cycle. I like to honour both digital and traditional mediums, it creates an interesting push/pull in the final artwork.

When did gender and class begin to influence your thinking whilst making?


JB - It was very recently actually. My work has always been very process based, and although I connected to it in a meditative way, the emotional and experience link wasn’t very prevalent to me. But then I read an essay by Shirley Kaneda, “Painting and It’s Others: In the Realm of the Feminine”. It added a whole other level to my understanding of abstract art, and highlighted themes and concepts I was experiencing first hand, without realising it. It also helped me understand the artists I love and why I loved them. So with this there was a sort of ‘shift’ of understanding with my own practise, specifically where it placed within the feminine and masculine. This worked its way into my process, my initial sketches feel weightier with my own experience as a female painter now. And in turn this self-awareness and underlying dissatisfaction with the state of the world extended to my place within the class system, the frustrations of it, and what I’m doing about it as a working-class, northern artist.

Loops for Healing, 2019, oil on canvas 61 x 76cm

As well as having influenced your process, have those realisations affected the aesthetics of your work?


JB - I think so, the work feels more loose and free, which makes the tighter motifs feel more intentional in comparison. I think the mark making has become more emotive with my new process.

What is the main issue you see caused by the North-South divide within the arts?


JB - I find that although there are many people holding exhibitions and doing their part in the North, many northern artists feel the need to move down south to grow their career. I can see the motive for this, and is great for the individual, but unfortunately it feeds into the view that London is the epicentre for art. It’s great for the individual, but not for the community. I’ve also had many experiences of do-gooder exhibitions which highlight issues of class, background, financial status - but they are primarily held in London. I believe to really make a statement, the show should be moved up to the north, drive the crowd up.


Is this something that is commonly felt by your peers, or is it an issue that is not often voiced?


JB - I think it is felt amongst my peers, but isn’t discussed openly enough. I think as emerging artists, it’s hard to show the struggle, because people often want to focus on the positive, their wins, and their successes.


Social media, especially Instagram, has been said to have democratised the art-world. Do you think Instagram has provided a mediation between the North and South?


JB - Yeah definitely, it levels the playing field to a certain point. But there comes a time when you can’t attend the publicised show, or afford to submit to the publication, due to your location or background. There’s a lot of luck involved with Instagram, so it’s hard to rely on it, and skill/graft unfortunately isn’t always linked to exposure.

The art-world has felt inaccessible by many working-class individuals, not only in terms of trying to succeed within it, but also in regards to feeling welcome in galleries and museums. Was art a part of your environment when growing up, or was it something that you engaged with later in life?


JB - It was always part of my life growing up - both of my parents are quite creative. My mum went to art school, and had a real eye for design and balance in the home and in her garden. My dad has a brief stint in art school but was always more practical, working in construction, always underneath his cars or motorbikes, fixing them up. He’s got a real creative mind, and it shows in his handiwork. So when I was drawing and painting as a child, it was encouraged a lot. I was encouraged to think creatively in all walks of life. It was later that I started visiting galleries, during my teens. 


Although gallery hopping and art buying isn’t something generally associated with the working class, we’re a creative bunch. It goes way back, Pre-Thatcher, Barnsley was a prominent mining town. Each community of miners had their creative outlets, such as my grandfather and his coworkers forming brass bands, for example. There’s a real creative streak within the working class, but it tends to be socially orientated rather than money orientated.


What do you feel has been your best opportunity in your career so far, and what is the goal that you wish to next achieve?


JB - I think the highlight of my career so far has been exhibiting with Guts Gallery. It was my first opportunity to exhibit far from home independently, since my studies. Ellie Pennick has created something great there, and I really support her cause. It also gave me the opportunity to learn about some great contemporary artists, and was nice to be exhibiting alongside Guerilla Girls! 

I also appreciate the opportunities given to me by David Sinclair, a curator who gave me my first solo and continues to support me and my practise. My next goal is to exhibit more outside of Leeds, in the North. I want to branch out to Manchester to begin with - dip my toes in some different artistic scenery!

What do you appreciate about the art-world?


JB - I appreciate the artist to artist community - I’ve never had the opportunity to build relationships with other art world figures such as galleries or collectors, so it’s difficult for me to comment!

Never Hear, 2019, oil on canvas, 125cm x 160cm

Are there any living artists that you would like to collaborate with?


JB - I’ve found so many artists through Instagram that I’d love to work with! This includes Morgan Blair, Kevin Monot, Romain Blanck, Tim Garwood, Daniel Fletcher, and my current favourite: Philip Gerald. It gives me confidence in my own practise to see artists working within similar themes, but with different trajectories.


You can see more of Jenny's work on her Instagram, and on her website.


  • Instagram