iographical details about the reclusive artist and autodidact, Mark Beyer, are limited to a few lines of facts and dates. Looking online, nothing further is to be gleaned beyond that which is already published. Beyer does not have a personal website. It appears there is a single known photograph of him in the public domain. The only interview of any length appeared in issue two of Escape conducted by Paul Gravett in 1983, when Beyer was in London for the Graphic Rap exhibition at the ICA. For nigh on 30 years this remains the only commentary made by the artist about his work. Much to my surprise and pleasure, I have been in contact with Mark who has been most forthcoming in response to my numerous email questions as well as providing images from all periods of his creative life. Although Beyer’s reputation resides primarily within the comics genre, he has always painted, produced silkscreen prints and made soft dolls. His first exhibition, at the age of 27, was at Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, followed by a second two years later at the Greg Weaver Gallery, Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since then he has had a steady stream of exhibitions, but his impact on the art world has remained marginal. It would be true to describe his art as having cult status. Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the height of the baby-boom era, Beyer was an only child. At the time, his parents rented an apartment, but within a year the family moved to a house in nearby Allentown, a city 90 miles east of New York. Both of his parents were children of the Depression years. His father served in the American Air Force during World War II, then went on to own a small construction company. Beyer’s relationship with his parents was difficult, particularly with his father. ‘He wanted a son
who was an all-American kind of boy. A kid who enjoyed playing baseball and had an interest in eventually taking over the family business. I was just not that kind of person.’ As Beyer became older, their understanding and tolerance of each other deteriorated. By the age of 13, the frustration that existed between father and son erupted into violence. ‘We would get into an argument and I would start throwing things around the house. One night when I was 15, I really went berserk and started smashing furniture and breaking everything in the house. My father called the police who came out and wanted to arrest me, but eventually they left.’ The consequence of this outburst resulted in Beyer being sent to a special school about 80 miles from Allentown. The institution had the dual function of being a reform school and mental hospital, an environment where young criminal offenders and ‘juvenile delinquents’ would co-habit with others suffering from serious mental health problems. Punishment for any perceived failure to conform was dealt with by ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). ‘I knew a guy there who received shock treatment six times. I came very close to getting sent off to get shock treatment myself, but I always managed to avoid it.’ Beyer was introduced to a regime based on fear and repression, society’s most fundamental and primitive psychological strategy for controlling people, barring direct physical torture. Finding himself in unstimulating surroundings, Beyer reverted to books as a way to occupy himself. ‘I would also draw little doodles in notebooks. It was mostly figurative work. Drawings of strange-looking people. I really didn’t think of what I was doing as art. It was just a way to kill time.’
above Untitled, 2004, silkscreen size unknown. opposite Untitled, 1994, silkscreen on paper, 15.75 x 23 ins., 40 x 58.4 cm.
Les Coleman died in January 2013 and was a London-based sculptor, installation artist, cartoonist, collector and writer. He had published several humorous volumes of drawings and thoughts, including his most famous Meet the Art Students. Coleman was an enthusiastic collector of comic art and imagery and this article was his own concept and his last text before he died so unexpectedly.
International journal of outsider art, folk art, visionary art and Art Brut.