As a boy, John Beard would sit in his mother’s studio in the Keys and watch as she painted portraits and landscapes. Inspired, he painted his own pictures, which family friends placed in their Islamorada gift shop.
“They’d come to me and say, ‘OK, here’s $25. Now we need another one,’” he recalled. “I don’t know if they ever actually sold, but I was like, ‘Wow! This is kind of cool; I can make money at this.’”
As he grew older, however, he elected to spend his time on baseball and football rather than art.
“I thought painting was, I don’t know, not cool,” he said.
After high school, he attended Bible college and then embarked on a life in the ministry. At first, he did work in the inner cities, eventually branching out to do relief work and help youth in India. After that, he carried on his mission in Eastern Europe. In Romania, he helped to develop a medical clinic, a dental clinic and an orphanage.
He found those 18 years rewarding but ultimately decided to make a change.
At 36, he asked his mother for a canvas and said he was going to paint.
Not wanting to waste a canvas on him, she gave him a piece of paper, on which he painted a landscape. His mother was impressed with it. Today, that painting hangs on a wall in the production area of the John Beard Gallery, which opened three months ago just off County Road 210 east of I-95.
The painting marked a major shift in Beard’s life.
“I never looked back,” he said.
Where another budding artist might seek out classes, Beard found an advantage in having a close relative who understood art.
“I started as an Impressionistic painter,” Beard said, “mentored by my accomplished artist mother. She taught me color theory. She taught me composition. She taught me so many things. I was very fortunate to have her as a mentor.”
Before he was out of his 30s, Beard underwent what he calls “an artistic awakening.” He felt a strong need to move away from Impressionism and venture into something new.
Then, one day, he was in South Carolina when he made a firm decision.
“We were in Pawleys Island, painting plein air, and I said, ‘This is it. This is the day I’m going to start painting abstractly,” he recalled.
Following this new direction, Beard didn’t even limit himself to using traditional brushes or palette knives. He made custom brushes to get a specific effect, one about 16-to-18 inches wide.
“I use everything,” he said. “I even grabbed by daughter’s beach toy one day and started using it. And she’s like, ‘Dad! That’s my toy!’”
For one painting, he suspended himself over a canvas from warehouse rafters, hoisted like a character in “Mission: Impossible” so that he could put down paint as he swung over the surface.
When creating a work of art, he is interested in how it impacts the viewer.
“Let’s face it,” he said. “Our daily lives are running around in traffic, and ‘Oh, we’re out of coffee; I’ve got to run to the store’; running kids to events … you know, the everyday is always there to pull us into that grind. And when I paint, I go to a different place in my mind. It’s more of a spiritual place, a mystical place. As I’m painting, it’s like I get caught up in a cloud, and in that place time stands still. I might paint all night and finish a painting, look at my watch, and it’s 8 a.m. — and I feel like I’ve only painted an hour.”
He said his goal is to pull the viewer into that place where he was when he was painting.
Today, Beard’s works are in high demand. And though he sells both original and giclee reproductions from his website, he now has a gallery at 110 Cumberland Park Drive, No. 105, west of Beachwalk.
It’s a studio, production facility, exhibit space and more.
“We make everything here in the gallery,” Beard said. “Everything from the stretcher bars to the actual canvas prints to framing. Everything is in-house.”
The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, weekends by appointment. For more information, go to johnbeardcollection.com or johnbeardcollection.com.
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