Journey into the world of Peter Beard: The pioneering contemporary artist who turned his life into a collage

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Peter Beard

Peter Beard’s illustrated diaries, which he kept from a young age, evolved into a serious career as an artist and earned him a central position in the international art world.

He collaborated with Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali, made diaries with Andy Warhol, worked on books with scientists such as Dr Norman Borlaug and Alistair Graham, and toured with Truman Capote, Terry Southern, and the Rolling Stones – all of whom are brought to life in his work.

He delved into the world of fashion, taking Vogue stars like Veruschka to Africa. After spending time in Kenya and striking up a friendship with the author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) in the early 1960s, Beard bought 50 acres next to her farm, with the stipulation that he would film and write about the land and its flora and fauna.

Elui with World-Record Cow Elephant Tusk, 47 lbs, Marsabit Forest, Kenya, 1962/2001 (Peter Beard)
Agnes of El Molo Bay, Loyangalani, Lake Rudolf, 1968/2002 (Peter Beard)

He witnessed the dawn of Kenya’s population explosion, which challenged finite resources and stressed animal populations – including the starving elephants of Tsavo dying by the tens of thousands in a wasteland of eaten trees. So he documented what he saw – with diaries, photographs, and collages.

Peter Beard at work in Montauk, US, in the 1980s (Peter Beard)
Jenny and Her Jewellery, Montauk, 2005 (Peter Beard)
Peter Beard, £100

He went against the wind in publishing unique and sometimes shocking books of these works, including The End of the Game. The corpses were laid bare; the facts were carefully recorded, sometimes in type and often by hand.

Beard used his photographs as a canvas on to which he superimposed multi-layered contact sheets, ephemera, found objects, newspaper clippings that are elaborately embellished with meticulous handwriting, old-master-inspired drawings, and often swaths of animal blood used as paint.

You can purchase ‘Peter Beard’ here