More than two years after legendary Montauk artist and figure Peter Beard wandered off and met his end in the dense, tangled brush of Camp Hero State Park, author Graham Boynton’s new biography features him like the flawed, utterly irresistible character that he was, even as something of an enigma remains when the book’s final pages turn.
Published by St. Martin’s Press on October 11, author Graham Boynton’s Wild: The life of Peter Beard, photographer, adventurer, lover offers as clear a picture as possible of Beard, perhaps.
The outrageously handsome and magnetic bon vivant was a world-renowned adventurer and conservationist who made women swoon and men wanted to be him. He rubbed shoulders with celebrities like Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Jackie Onassis, Truman Capote, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
He still had a young beauty on his arm and spent most of his days and nights “pleasantly pixelated” as he puts it in the book, on a list of drugs that began with alcohol and marijuana, often included of cocaine and could extend all the ways of cracking. Yet few would ever see Beard lose control.
While Boynton’s book speaks to all of these inescapable aspects of Peter Beard, the author understands that his subject was, at root, an artist first and foremost. This was, as Boynton writes, its “raison d’être”. And he strives to examine Beard’s powerful work with collaged photographs taken in the African bush and the beaches of Montauk, often painted in blood, scribbled with pen and ink notes, and adorned with bits and pieces. of trash and ephemera he collected on his travels. .
What is its significance and value in the wider art world, and where does Beard’s legacy fit in the pantheon of geniuses who came before him and those who will follow? The author doesn’t quite find an answer, but this book will help inform anyone who delves into these questions.
The Wild Life of Peter Beard
Savage begins with Beard’s death in 2020, when the 82-year-old man, suffering from dementia, walked into the woods of Montauk and disappeared, his body mysteriously escaping discovery during a massive search that used helicopters and dogs, until three weeks later when a friend found him in dense undergrowth, lying in a stream just 500 yards from his home. It was the dramatic end to a life filled with drama, and it was, as Boynton argues, “probably the way he wished he’d ended his life.”
Boynton, who had a decades-long friendship with Beard, shares his own experiences with the artist and digs into his life and loves, beginning with an explanation of his wealthy family line and stories of an incorrigible child who never was never afraid to fight or take risks.
In one recollection, Beard’s lifelong friend Tony Hoyt recalls how he forced his way into an ice hockey goal without protective gear and encouraged Hoyt and his teammates to shoot him, which ‘they did. “That was how he was,” Hoyt said. “Brave and completely mad.”
Of course, Beard’s propensity for risk and danger found far greater extremes, particularly during his time in Africa, a place that would inspire and then define him for decades to come. He came to the continent as a hunter, but soon found himself defending wildlife and land and exposing poachers in his now classic book. The end of the game.
Savage recounts his struggles with man and animal in Africa, including the 1996 elephant attack that nearly killed him. This particular incident is already entrenched in Beard legend, as it should be, but the book offers lesser-known adventures and not-so-flattering tales that show a man who could be cruel and contradictory.
The book also focuses on the prolific love life of Beard, who had an ever-growing list of conquests that was never interrupted despite his marriage three times – first to socialite Mary “Minnie” Olivia Cochran Cushing in 1967, followed by model Cheryl Tiegs from 1982–1986, and, most importantly, his long-suffering, long-suffering third wife Nejma. The latter, whom he married shortly after divorcing Tiegs, is the mother of Beard’s daughter, Zara, and remained with him until the end, despite years of infidelity and alleged misbehavior.
Perhaps Beard’s most significant drug-fueled partnership was with The Time Is Always Now gallerist Peter Tunney, who did much to bring the artist’s work to the fore in the 1990s, dramatically increasing his awards and setting him up for his most prolific period working in the bowels of the Broome Street gallery.
As Boynton recounts, and those who were there to witness it will agree, it was a particularly magical and fertile time for the artist, although he regularly used his works as currency for the payment of a bill. or from a bar bill, or he simply gave them to friends, lovers, even close strangers who took him in good spirits.
In an effort to keep Beard off drugs and women and friends she considered users, according to Savage, Nejma began to drive her husband away from anyone who called her. At the same time, she strove to recover the work he had given away or sold too cheaply, often at the expense of friendships. Understandable, some would say, but for those who knew and loved the man, it also felt anathema to his nature.
The author clearly harbors resentments towards Nejma, as did a number of Beard’s friends, and he spends time explaining how she caged the free-spirited creature in the twilight of her life, separating him from friends, beautiful young women, and random characters who once came and went from their home atop the cliffs of Montauk. Some of them may have visited with a joint or a bag of cocaine ready (perhaps at Beard’s insistence), but most were probably eager to sit on a log, talk about art and simply being in his presence.
Beard was a man who could make friends, admirers, acquaintances and lovers feel absolutely blessed to be in his orbit, but this magnanimous and free nature also seemed to frustrate and enrage his own family to the point where they sequestered him away from most of the people who loved him.
But, Boynton writes, Beard seemed to accept, rejecting friends in a way that, to the author, seemed “sociopathic.” Yet few harbored resentment against Beard. One way or another, the author says that almost all of Beard’s lovers retained friendships with him after their passions waned, and they rarely bore ill will.
Savage is the first comprehensive chronicle of Peter Beard’s life since his death, and it does an excellent job of pulling together all the scattered pieces, and some blood, to tell the truth about the man and his art that will surely endure.