Born in Aberdare, Wales in 1943, John Beard studied at the University of London and the Royal College of Art. He has held numerous solo exhibitions and participated in group shows around the world including HEAD On: Art with the Brain in Mind at the Science Museum, London (2002), Painting the Century, 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000 at the National Portrait Gallery, London (2000), and the Possibilities of Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra (1999). The British-Australian artist's solo exhibitions include Visao Fugitiva at the Gulbenkian's Centro de Arte Moderna, Lisbon (2005-06), an installation in 1999 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales of selected works from Beard's solo exhibition, After Adraga, which was shown at the Tate Gallery, St Ives, UK (1998) and Heads Phase I and II as a Level 2 Contemporary Project at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (1999). Beard has also held solo exhibitions in India, USA, Spain and New Zealand.
In 2005 Beard was awarded a major grant from the Pollock Krasner Foundation.In 2006 he won the Art Gallery of New South Wales Wynne Prize and the Kedumba Contemporary Drawing Award, was invited to participate in the Australian Drawing Biennale and made a Visiting Professorial Fellow at the College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales, Sydney. In 2007 he won the Art Gallery of New South Wales 2007 Archibald Prize for Portrait Painting in Australia.
In 2009 held a part survey exhibition - Headlands works 1993-2007 (curated by William Wright) at the Australian National University Drill Hall Gallery and exhibited in Gesichtslos-Die Malerei des Diffusen (Faceless-The Art of Diffusion) Kunsthalle Darmstadt, Germany 2009/2010.
In February 2010, was appointed a trustee of The Art Gallery of New South Wales, in Australia.
His work has been collected by major Australian and international public and private institutions including National and State Galleries across Australia, the Gulbenkian's Centro de Arte Moderna in Lisbon, Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London. Beard lives in Sydney and is represented by John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne, Liverpool Street Gallery, Sydney, and The Fine Art Society, London.
A major monograph was published in 2011. As the first documentation of John Beard’s work, this definitive monograph provides a visual chronology of Beard’s work from 1978-2011. Featuring a highly original design presentation and exacting production standards, this beautifully created book contains essays by Stephen Bann and Anthony Bond with an introduction by Charles Saumarez Smith.Their sympathetic and comprehensive appraisal of Beard’s art is complimented by over 300 reproductions spanning the artist’s 40-year career.
The Adraga series began with a large number of studies of an isolated rock off the coast of Portugal made while John was living in Sintra, near Lisbon in 1993. This rock, surrounded by sea in all its moods, seemed to entrance him for several years. In the Adraga series it first became clear that the rock had become a figure or a head. John makes no concessions to mimetic suggestions of anthropomorphism, it is simply the intensity of the focus on the singularity of the form that makes an inanimate rock into an identity.