Eric Beardsley stands by his painting "Tall Man" at the Desert Intarsia gallery on Gold Street downtown.
"Petroglyph II" is acrylic and stucco on denim, with reclaimed leather strips and a reclaimed cypress frame.
A torn and patched history, rethought and reframed
—Keiko Ohnuma, Signpost
Sometimes it happens that you do your own thing for thirty or forty years, with no real audience, without notice. Then one day, suddenly, the audience appears.
That’s what happened to Eric Beardsley, who had been making art quietly for most of his forty-six years. Raised in the wide-open West, he spent his adult life working odd jobs, singing in a rock band, moving around, partying hard—and paying for it.
All the while, he kept at the drawing, painting, and collage he had turned to as an asthmatic kid who couldn’t really play sports. He favored abstract landscapes in brilliant acrylics, inspired by the places he’s lived: east and west Texas, Oklahoma, Denver, and Albuquerque, with stints in Louisiana and Kentucky.
His paintings reflect those environments, from the water and trees of Louisiana to the skies of New Mexico, which appear as layers of color running under and over personal and collective symbols.
If Beardsley ever considered himself an artist, however, the world told him different. “I got tired of trying to promote myself,” he says. He would solicit art galleries and hear that they liked his work, but couldn’t sell it. He quit making art for about eight years.
Meanwhile, life offered him plenty of other material. He moved from state to state, working jobs from oil companies to grocery stores. He got a degree in computers—then found he hated sitting in a cubicle. At one point, when he had hit bottom living “a crazy lifestyle” in Louisiana, he decided to move back West—and then got into a car crash that broke all the bones in his neck.
Even that wasn’t quite bottom, however, since he “got shipped back to Denver, moved in with the meanest woman in the world, and went with her to Kentucky.” When that blew up, he came back to Colorado.
Beardsley relates his remarkable biography offhandedly, because what really seems to interest him is what was going on beneath the surface. His artwork began to change, he says, as his belief system changed.
“Like the way Native American, Buddhist beliefs are more in touch with nature,” he says, hunting for the words. “My outlook changed, from looking for ways to make people happy with my art, to making me happy.” He came to realize that “you have to make yourself happy first, be in touch with your surroundings.” To make art, in other words, for yourself and not for others.
Nature, symbolism, and surface thus play unselfconsciously across his canvases, which reflect the stitched-together, well-worn aspects of his life quite literally. For canvas, Beardsley uses old jeans, centering them with pockets and tears intact. They are stretched over wood reclaimed from construction sites and dumps, with frames made of shipping palettes or scraps from cabinet shops.
He turned “green,” he says, out of necessity—because canvas and framing cost a lot if you’re not selling the results. The first time he tried using a pair of old jeans, the painting sold, so he found better ways to do it.
You might think that old jeans would be a fairly limited and limiting resource, but not in Beardsley’s case. He works as a flooring specialist at Lowe’s in Rio Rancho, and goes through jeans like aprons. The hardened stains of stucco and mastic add sculptural interest to his canvases, which are laced together like Native drum skins when a pant leg limits the width of a painting.
The materials he uses, too, are drawn from his daily life: figures stenciled in stucco, sand, or sawdust, with bits of pine boughs, rock, or other natural materials when he works outside, as well as leather ties and Native American fasteners.
His parents are collectors of Beardsley originals, and their wall art drew the attention of a friend who happens to own an art gallery. She heard Eric’s story, and brought her husband by to look.
Stacy and Brian Maggard were then moving their Desert Intarsia gallery from Old Town to a much larger space downtown, and they told Eric’s parents they wanted every painting he had. Last month, Eric Beardsley was their featured artist for First Friday Artscrawl, with twelve paintings on display in the new eighteen-hundred-square-foot space.
“The neat thing about Eric’s work is that everything has a story—even the frames,” says Brian Maggard, who opened the gallery initially to sell his intricate stone jewelry. Desert Intarsia carries the work of some twenty artists, eighteen of them from around Albuquerque, Maggard says. “We try to keep everything local.”
After years of rejection, Beardsley says he still has a hard time answering his inner critic, though his enthusiasm takes over when he relates the story behind each painting.
Fascinated for years by Native symbols, he was shocked to encounter on a trip to Hawaii the very petroglyphs he had “invented” for his paintings years before.
Beardsley says he likes living in Rio Rancho because it’s close to work, affordable, and centrally located. A fly fisherman since age six, he still drives to the mountains every chance he gets.
Of his sudden arrival in a downtown gallery after years of failed attempts, he offers the same matter-of-fact acceptance as for years of hard luck. “I just look at it like, sometimes the harder you push, the less you succeed.”
His home life has transformed in the last decade from just a dog and roommate to being happily settled with a girlfriend, her daughter, and the three grandchildren who come to visit. He says he realized recently that he had stayed in flooring for fifteen years because it lets him help people with creative design.
“It comes from living the right way,” he says of his new outlook. “Things come to you when the time is right.”