Andy Warhol called him a modern Tarzan. “He jumps in and out of the snake pit he keeps at his home. He cuts himself and paints with the blood. He wears sandals and no socks in the middle of Winter. He lived in a parked car on 13th Street for six months. He moved when he woke up and found a transvestite sleeping on the roof.”
After reading Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, at the age seventeen, the handsome teenage son of a wealthy industrialist travelled to Zululand in the 1950s, accompanying Charles Darwin’s grandson. The romance of Africa inspired the young artist in Peter who was heading for a career in medicine. He became infatuated with Africa and vowed to make a life for himself there that was as far as he could possibly get from American Ivy League universities.
He would later return to purchase his own ranch that became a lifelong home away from home, overlooking the very same hills described in Blixen’s book. But Peter lead a double life…
When he wasn’t creating magnificent journals and artworks, a combination of photography and collage, from under the shade of his Kenyan tent, he was off shooting for Vogue magazine in Paris or indulging in disco at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and the Rolling Stones by his side. Francis Bacon painted his portrait while Salvador Dali painted on him.
His collages reflect a wild-man-poet-adventurer torn between the freedom of the African bush and the hedonism of fame and fortune. His photographs of iconic rock stars and supermodels overlap drawings of African wildlife and quotations elaborately inscribed over manic brushstrokes in animal blood, or sometimes his own.
In Kenya’s oldest and largest national park, Beard photographed and documented the demise of 35,000 elephants and other wildlife, which later became the subject of his first book, “The End of the Game.”
He liked to surround himself with dangerous and beautiful things. He discovered Somalian supermodel Iman while she was studying at a university in Nairobi.
He’s been married twice and you’d wonder if he’s had more girlfriends than Hugh Hefner. He’s also been trampled by elephants, nearly bleeding to death.
“I don’t mind the word ‘dilettante,'” Peter once said. “A dilettante means someone who does what he loves”.
“I’m an escapist. I’m not a planner; I’ve never made a decision about anything in my life. The good thing about Africa is that you can escape forever. You can do what you want without someone looking over your shoulder. ” – Peter Beard, may he rest in peace.