Artist profile: Marina Beard

What’s your background and how did you become an artist?

Having spent my childhood in Italy I was surrounded by a variety of beautiful things which attracted my attention. Looking back, I was like a magpie; collecting images of all sorts of sights and sounds. When I eventually came to live in this part of London, I continued to be fascinated by my new surroundings.

I received my degree in Fine Art Sculpture & Ceramics from Camberwell. Upon graduating, I began working on large scale sculptures and public commissions.

I eventually fell into teaching, after a year-long commission at a local school ignited my love of inspiring others to be creative regardless of perceived natural talent. I qualified as a teacher, and spent a decade working in both private and state schools; first as an Artist in Residence and, eventually, as a Joint Head of Department at a successful grammar school in South East London.

I also managed to squeeze in some work at the Clore Ballrooms on the Southbank for a festival, which is where my passion for combining live art performance with music began in earnest!

Why did you leave teaching?

In 2017 I realised I was approaching total burnout. I found that I had inadvertently traded teaching skills, subject curiosity and enjoyment in the creative process for pressure to achieve the highest grades. I was drowning in oceans of paperwork and government directives. This realisation led me to a career change. With shaky legs, and much to the dismay of others, I left my job and decided to return to the life of a full time artist.

What do you do at the Mansion?

I have been at the Mansion for a year now, and am involved in a variety of projects. I’m working on private commissions and am also back to indulging my passion as a sound artist. I still teach small groups and individual students.

More recently, I have become part of a group of artists here involved in creating large scale installations for events and community workshops. I love this work as it enables me not only to develop my own knowledge, but to continue using my skills whilst sharing that with the local community; hopefully to further engender a love of contemporary/traditional art.

What does your typical day look like?

As I live locally, it is a short journey to arrive every day to my little corner of heaven! I got over ambitious and decided to cycle recently – suffice it to say that hill + art materials + me was not a winning combination!

Most days I can be found sitting at my studio desk here at the Mansion, music on, tea in hand and a range of media flying around everywhere! I’m a bit of a workaholic - I find it difficult not to come in at weekends too, but I am trying to contain my time here in paradise, as family demands a fair share of my time also.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I am inspired by primarily by sound, light and the emotions I experience in relation to colour, nature and the environment I am in. I feel really strongly about protecting and caring for the environment, I support local & national charities and donate some of the proceeds of my sales to environmental charity. I also try to work with and include recycled material where I can, and some of the inks I use are made from materials sourced right here in the park!

I feel immensely privileged to be able to explore these ideas in my work in such a spectacular environment as our lovely park. I love being surrounded by trees and space, whilst being firmly grounded in South East London.

What does the future hold?

My future plans are to continue to make art here: at the moment I am preparing a body of work for a touring show in the US as well venues more locally. I am developing some small sculptures which may be ready for show at the Mansion before Christmas.. so watch this space..

I also hope to run a series of workshops from here, as I am really keen to see this space become even more of a creative hub in the local area. For myself I am also hoping to find the time and the finances to study for my MA..

Artist profile: Sophia Lyons

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

It has been a long journey! It probably should have been very different. I was born to be creative, but came out of school with only two O Levels; Art and Music. My panicked parents pushed me into the local college to do a Business Diploma. Everyone seemed to want me to be a secretary.

Instead at 19, I got married. At 21, I was a divorced, single mum in dire straits. So I started up a sandwich business from home called ‘Sam Widges’, employing a handful of other single mums. That was my first business and that got me out of trouble.

I married again, became a mum of two, and built up a second business with my husband; a large fireplace retail outlet (which still runs today); and during that time I gained a degree in Business.

I divorced again and then stumbled into the music industry in my forties, when my son’s band was signed to a major record label. This felt like I was getting back to my creative roots, with my love of the arts and music, and now I had some business acumen to add to it. For eight fantastic years I worked in the management team for some incredible musicians around the UK.

In 2011, I got breast cancer. This stopped me in my tracks a bit. During my treatment, I started to paint again. Naturally it was a time to reflect, re-evaluate. I was painting everyday and often, on the days I was well enough, I went to galleries. Then one day I was in the National Portrait Gallery, looking at a beautiful but simple portrait, and I said to my friend, ‘I could do that’. I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder from behind… it was the Curator who, with a very stern voice, said, ‘But you didn’t, did you?’ And that was the moment I decided I was going to be a painter.

Luckily the doctors and I were able to kick the cancer’s butt and I have spent the last seven years not just painting my heart out, but learning everything I can in the process.

I’m often asked, ‘Where did you train?’ I joke, ‘the University of YouTube’. Of course there have been many sources - galleries, podcasts, other artists, studying and copying famous works. Anything and anywhere that I can grab information and experience. It feels like I am on a mission and making up time for something I should have been doing all my life.

What inspires you?

It varies but right now it’s primarily nature… but throw in the juxtapose of industry shapes, like abandoned engineering and traces of past human existence, where nature has engulfed it, and I want to paint it. But rarely in literal terms - if I see it, I want to paint the memory and the feel of it.

I also like to paint figures using broad strokes and these paintings have a narrative which tells of something I’ve experienced, I feel or question.

Anyone who sees my work all in one place, either at my studio, website or Instagram, will notice I’ve been exploring and there are different styles, methods and mediums. However, there is a common undertone throughout and my own style is closing in fast.

What are your ambitions for the future?

To keep going as a full-time artist. To keep learning, keep discovering - it’s an amazing adventure.

It’s the best feeling when I get to see my work in someone’s home. When people send me photos of paintings they’ve bought from me, it always really makes my day!

Tell us about working in the Mansion

I have my studio upstairs at the Mansion, in a large shared room which is sectioned into areas for five individual artists.

I was one of the first artists to move in, in 2017 when the Mansion first opened to the community. I found out about it when I was walking my dog in the park and had called into the Café and saw a notice. I literally ran home and typed up my application. The timing was incredible for me and I just couldn’t believe my luck when I was accepted. I still pinch myself, to be honest!

All my life I have used Beckenham Place Park; I have never lived more than a mile from it and since my 11 year old dog, Buckley, was a puppy this has been the place of the daily walks. It's undeniably a huge source of inspiration. I love it’s open fields, the river and particularly the ancient woodlands. I love the messy randomness of old trees and untouched undergrowth (I did a series of paintings about this.)

I am really excited about the forthcoming lake too. It will be like a mini Serpentine and it will bring an abundance of new wildlife and waterfowl. I can’t wait to go for a dip in the summer!

What does the Mansion mean to you?

For me, the Mansion is a place to connect with the community. I get to paint in a bright studio with a view (albeit a bit cold and drafty sometimes!) and have the chance to mingle with other artists, which is really important and I am surrounded by such talent here.

Also, with lots of Open Studio days, people visiting the Mansion can wind their way up the stone spiral staircase to come and meet us and see what on earth we do up there! And they’ll also find lots of affordable original art ;)

What are your highlights?

The Festival of Lights was so great this year. It was a brilliant atmosphere and the Mansion delivered a warm, festive event which was community (not commercially) driven, plus the light show was pretty spectacular. However, the best event for me was the Flower Show last summer… it was so much more than a flower show! Along with the horticultural competitions was The Dog/Owner look alike competition which was so funny, there were artisan food and drinks stalls… families all sitting out on the grass with their picnics enjoying the incredible live music and of course the Art Exhibition in the main hall and lot’s more. Yep, I can’t wait for this year’s Flower Show in June!

What are your hopes for the Mansion’s future?

It has transformed over the last two years. It really has become an amazing hub of activity. It’s for everyone now and it seems the community have really embraced it.

I just hope that it's possible to continue with the good work that has happened here already; all of which has been done pretty much on a shoestring, I think.

If there could be long term certainty of being able to continue this good work and funding to preserve the building and it’s use for everyone - and not the elite few -then, yes, that’s my hope for the Mansion.