Jenny Beard and Connor Shields

Middle of the Road


16 September - 15 December 2022


Vernon Street Gallery

Visiting hours

10:00am - 4:00pm Monday to Friday

Preview: 15 September 2022 5:00pm-7:00pm

Location: Vernon Street Gallery, Leeds Arts University, Vernon Street, Leeds LS2 8PH

Jenny Beard and Connor Shields In Conversation with Dr Sarah Taylor: 7 November 2022 4:30pm

Location: Postgraduate Hub, Leeds Arts University, Blenheim Walk, Leeds LS2 9AQ

Leeds Arts University BA (Hons) Fine Art alumni Jenny Beard and Connor Shields present two new commissions as part of their exhibition, Middle of the Road.

Jenny Beard and Connor Shields who both live in Leeds are concerned with questions around gender, queerness, class, northern identity and dialect. Beard’s practice has historically been explorative, reaching out into painting but during the recent lockdowns, her work became introspective enabling her to became more aware of her position in the world, as a working-class northern woman. Shields’ inspiration comes from construction sites, the assemblages and material combinations that occur in these spaces. He is interested in tensions, both physically within the work, but also within the concept of masculinity.

For the Middle of the Road exhibition, they have developed a collaborative approach that ties together their practices through commonalities on materials, textures and colours. Pops of vibrant colour, reappropriation of industrial materials and road signs, abstract notions and shapes characterised by immediacy and rawness emerge as a humorous and playful critique of class and gender prejudice. Similarly, the use of language in both practices act as a conversation on working class identity and gender performativity whilst revealing tensions within toxic masculinity.

Jenny Beard is a painter working within contemporary painting, and her process is built upon automatic drawing, using digital tools to create and manipulate sketches. Abstract imagery is used to explore optical space, depth, and flatness. The 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. In Jenny’s text-based pieces, the themes of gender and class are explored. The paintings are used as a tool for ‘thinking out loud’, as the artist comes to terms with her own uncomfortable relationship with expressing emotions and addressing issues. The observations, questions and musings are tinged with self-deprecation, humour and acceptance. Digital methods are embraced in Jenny’s practice, but the work is always finished traditionally and meticulously. Painting doesn’t die; instead, digital exploration opens up new ways of seeing and laying paint, which creates a refreshing relationship between artist and painting.

Connor Shields is an artist practising in Leeds. His practice is an inquiry into the nature of maleness through the use of dichotomous materials such as steel, knitted wool and concrete. An investigation of these industrial materials and craft techniques realises a visually powerful dynamic in which ideas of ‘working-class masculinity’ are explored. Originating from Middlesbrough, Shields’ work develops as a response to experiences of post-industrial upbringing. The process of making is explorative, combining often contrasting objects which develop a sense of tension within the work. His current series of work, Shields takes inspiration from construction sites and the imagery associated with these spaces. Random assemblages of objects feel almost sculptural in how they are stacked, bundled, twisted and entwined together.

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