through the grapevine

No longer just an artist, Alex Beard is now a successful entrepreneur.
cheryl gerber photographs
Alex Beard

Prior to Aug. 29, 2005, Alex Beard had a modest gallery on Chartres Street, where he relied on tourists and local visitors for support. In the months following the storm, the gallery suffered financially, which caused Beard to reshape his career path from a bit more of a business standpoint; it was then that he evolved into an entrepreneur and inventor. He wanted to sell his wares all over the world and become successful at this, with the goal of being able to move back to the city he had fallen in love with.

So he and his wife, Amy, a native of Alexandria, relocated to New York City, where Beard was born and raised. It was there where he says they “laid all the cards on the table.” His idea was not complicated: He wanted to publish a book based on his quill-ink animal-print drawings that had once adorned the wall of his gallery. New York publisher Abrams eventually inked a deal with Beard, and The Jungle Grapevine, a children’s book, was published in September 2009, along with sets of kids’ games and puzzles featuring the book’s characters.

Beard grew up surrounded by the creative spirit. His uncle, photographer Peter Beard, ran in social circles with such iconic figures as Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. Beard says that during this “heart of the pop movement,” he was inspired by people who were not only artistically talented but also “successful, creative and entrepreneurial.” He also drew inspiration from his travels all over the world, including far-flung African savannas and Indian rain forests.

Beard found himself hooked on New Orleans in 1994 when he moved here to further his artistic education at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.

After The Jungle Grapevine was published, Beard was able to return home to New Orleans, where he now keeps a gallery on Royal Street. Although he has residences in both cities, he cherishes New Orleans as the place to raise his children, 4-year-old Landry and baby Camille. “I want them to grow up in a city that is based on community,” he says.

He maintains a home base here, but he also continues to cross international boundaries. He has become a household name with his books, card games, puzzles, board games and other interactive thought-provoking “toys” that appeal to a wide range of ages and promote creative thinking.

Beard works on several projects at a time, often switching back and forth between media. “When I paint, I use things I’ve learned from drawing,” he says. “And when I draw, I use skills I’ve learned from painting. Literally,” he adds with a smile, “I cross the lines.”

Although the drawings in The Jungle Grapevine are whimsical and appealing to youngsters, the genius of his work lies in its simplicity.

“People are put in boxes too often,” says Beard. “You can be intelligent and whimsical. My books are for adults as well as children.” The Jungle Grapevine touches upon chaos theory while teaching a valuable lesson about the dangers of gossip.

Beard’s products are widely varied in artistic form –– drawings are more straightforward, while his paintings often reveal complex, colorful patterns. There is a uniting factor, however, and that is his awe of nature that is evident in his work.

“I am interested in the way that things intrinsically move,” he says thoughtfully. “There is a commonality to the way that gazelles run across the veldt; it’s the same way that dolphins skip along the surface of water. Your eye moves around this painting in the way that fish swim.”

Among his many projects are “impossible puzzles,” which are aimed at children 10 and older. “I have always liked to do puzzles, but traditional jigsaw puzzles bothered me,” he says. “The pieces had no relationship to the actual design.” So he created his own line; each puzzle has its own dye, and each piece is cut in relation to the big picture.

The puzzles are based off of his paintings, yet you can make an entirely new picture by rearranging the pieces.

His next major project is a book called Monkey See, Monkey Do, which, like The Jungle Grapevine, encourages creative, active thinking. It also offers messages about bravery and discovery, something we can all appreciate. The book will be published in September, accompanied by a new platform of products, including flashcards, games and other recreational and educational tools. 

In the meantime, Beard will continue his art and inventions and give back to the community. He will embark on a book tour for Monkey See, Monkey Do, which will include hosting open studios for kids across the country in an effort to “re-spark interest in creativity.”

He is also involved in efforts to raise environmental awareness –– he is designing a poster for the Telluride Film Festival that depicts images of endangered animals, the festival’s focus this year. Beard also partnered with the New Orleans Saints with his limited edition silkscreen prints; proceeds benefit local charities.

A perfectionist, Beard says that he knows his works are finished based on this philosophy: “If you can’t do something to make it better, it’s done.”

Categories: Masters of their Craft, Theatre + Art