In her latest vibrant series, It’s Her Factory, contemporary artist Helen Beard focuses on female self-pleasure, body positivity and empowerment.
On show at Unit London from 7 September, the kaleidoscopic oil and acrylic paintings hope to "reclaim ownership over depictions of the body from the predominantly male gaze...in a world that promotes sexuality and relationships through idealised and arguably unrealistic body expectations".
For instance, in The Seducer (2019) and Poetry in Motion (2019), sanitised, chauvinistic representations of lust are replaced by intimate portrayals of the female form. With their graphic depictions of explicit sex acts and entwined bodies, the paintings confront us, forcing us to engage with the scenes on the artist’s terms.
In recent years, Beard has also documented queer intimacy, so all types of sexuality and sexual activity, particularly those often censored in the media, are given due attention. "Beard 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," explains the Gallery.
The composition of Beard’s imagery, which mainly focuses on close crops of the body, draws heavily on her 15-year career in the film industry. It was during this time that she studied the way 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," adds Unit London. "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’."