Bernar Venet was born to Jean-Marie Venet, a school teacher and chemist, and Adeline Gilly and was the youngest of four boys. He was brought up in Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban and had a religious upbringing, aspiring to become a missionary. He became interested in painting and drawing at a young age. At age 11, discovering a book on Pierre-Auguste Renoir, he first understood that he might be able to forge a career out of his particular talent.
After several attempts at gaining a formal education in the arts, he worked as a stage designer at the Nice Opera in 1959. In 1961, Venet joined the French Army whilst also starting to establish his style as an artist. During this period, he painted with tar, creating his art with his feet in a gestural style. This work eventually developed into black monochromatic paintings which eschewed all forms of action painting.