'And as this world shrinks and turns and changes in front of your eyes, try and remember that what I’ve put down here is true and that Nature’s truth is always greater, stranger, more complex, and more incredible than mankind’s make-believe.' – Peter Beard
Peter Beard has spent his life exploring the boundaries between Man and Nature. Living on the edge of this dividing line, Beard has explored humanity’s limitations and its impact on the world. Indeed, Beard implores us to remember ‘the grandeur of human futility’ when faced with the reality of our powerlessness against the natural forces of this great planet and treat it with the respect and delicacy that it merits (Peter Beard, Zara’s Tales, Knopf, New York, 2004, p. 152).
The artist’s initial compulsion was fueled upon countless visits to the Natural History Museum and Central Park Zoo as a child living in New York City. He then read Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa at the age of sixteen, which instilled a guiding principle in him: ‘Her writing tells us that nature is the most important thing in our lives, and the closer people and animals are related, the more meaningful, genuine, authentic, relaxing, and life-enhancing it will all be’ (Jon Bowermaster, The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1993, p. 33). Beard moved to Kenya in the 1960s and established Hog Ranch, which remains a home and a studio.
For the next fifty years, Beard immersed himself in writing books and documenting his local environment. He cultivated profound connections with the people, habitat and wildlife around him, involving himself in politics and environmental conservation. He resolved to exist there in harmony with his surrounding, determined to ‘listen rather than to tell’ while fully committed to preserving wilderness and spreading awareness of man’s impact on nature. Within this narrative, each piece contains elements of both life and death. Over multiple decades of growth and experiences in Kenya, Beard has communicated on behalf of the endangered through a lens of African sensibility.
This tireless dedication and passion is imbued in Beard’s artwork, which partially accounts for its powerful presence and impact. His artistic methodology has never wavered?his drive and perspective simply expands, his work tackling ever more profound and complex ideas, stories and emotions. Beard exposes himself fully in his work?to know a piece intimately is to understand a part of his mind and personal philosophy. His awe, enthusiasm, hopes and fears are palpable in the striking images and meticulous handwork.
Beard treats each print as a fresh canvas, creating a distinct narrative around each work with collage, ephemera and illustrations. The resulting piece attests to a committed collaboration and synthesis, as the collage-work is applied by Beard while the intricate paintings and pointillism are worked on by local workers at Hog Ranch. Beginning with Kamante Gatura in 1962 (who was Karen Blixen’s majordomo and moved in with the Beards upon her death), Beard has collaborated with and trained locals as artists who embellish the works and enhance them with an authentic sense of their circumstances and surrounding flora. They do not come to Beard as artists, but evolve into them; he guides them in their drawings, teaching and assisting along the way. Thus, their handwork is authentically Beard and is a natural complement to his art. He then finalizes each work himself. The exquisitely vibrant handwork on the present work was completed in approximately six months by Solomon Wamisigo and Esta Njoki, who have been working with Beard since 1999 and 2015, respectively.
The image depicted in the present lot?of two orphaned cubs, their fate uncertain, gazing directly into the camera?is arguably the artist’s most iconic. This work is extraordinary in its entirety: the cheetahs are framed within a margin of vibrantly colored animals and flora, a swirling world of fantastical creatures that inject an undeniable energy. The layered work is so intricate and abundant that one sees something new upon each viewing. The artist himself is depicted along the central right edge, aiming his camera toward the cheetahs. Quintessentially Peter Beard, Orphaned Cheetah Cubs is a testament to a lifelong commitment to environmental consciousness and a celebration of life: ‘The biggest and best homework assignment in life and art, and I’ll give it to you right now, is to keep yourself excited, going forward, happy, enthusiastic.’