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Peter Schuyff Is So Clever


Cultural Court Jester Or Alchemist?


by S. Adams Kruger &
with help from
Iris Alkalay


    Peter Schuyff talked with S. Adams Kruger on October 7th, 2013, about the glory of playing in a band at fifty-four, the sisters Faith, Hope and Charity, what life was once like in the Chelsea Hotel, and crowd-funding The Woodwards’ upcoming tour.


What’s up?

PS: What's up? I'm up. I'm over the moon, cloud nine. A few minutes ago I received an email inviting me to be in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. That's as good as news gets. They're going to show my carved pencils. I've got some of those pencils listed as perks on this Woodwards crowd funding campaign. I just now wrote to our manager saying we should probably double the price. Awhile ago I bought a box of old original pencils from Woodward’s department store. I figured I'd carve them for whoever wanted one at a hundred bucks apiece. They will be immortal after the Whitney. A hundred bucks would be giving them away.

Our paths cross again; thank you. Why?

PS: I've been wanting to do something with you guys a long time already. Then a couple of weeks ago I sent the pitch for a crowd funding thing I'm doing. I wasn't asking for a handout, I mean, red flower has always and already shown me love; I just wanted to show off the clever campaign we put together.

Tell me more about your current campaign through crowdfunding.

PS: We, The Woodwards, are looking to pay for our tour. We recorded, printed and promoted a CD. A really good CD. We spent our nut. Our manager came up with the crowdfunding idea. I hated to ask for money in an "I don't need no charity" kind of way but then Martin made this video. It says exactly that: we don't need no stinking money! Like we're ashamed or something, like we're proud but we want the money anyway. It's a very clever campaign.

The Woodwards European Tour Crowdfunding

You mentioned the word “clever” twice. When I think of Peter S. the word works both as an artist and a person. Do you think clever as a device in making work is enough?

PS: Clever is like Pretty, not so much a device as a lubrication. I'll swallow almost any bitter pill if it's pretty or charming enough.

How do you feel about altruism?

PS: Hope and Faith's sober older sister: Charity. I don't know her at all. I run into Faith and Hope all the time. I see them at parties, Faith is always there early while Hope shows up just as everyone's leaving. Charity stays home. She's best when nobody's watching.

The Chelsea Hotel, “if those walls could talk” (ha ha)...it’s been a few years. Any story come to mind?

PS: A story about altruism? At the Chelsea Hotel? That's a stretch but let me try:

The first few years that I lived at the Chelsea Hotel there was this old man living next door. He'd been a painter, lived in this tiny room that was packed full like a box with hundreds, maybe thousands of little paintings. Anyway, he wasn't a drunk so much but he was just shot, he was too far gone to be a drunk. He'd lose his keys (he'd tell me Stanley, the hotel’s owner, took them) and for weeks at a time he knocked on my door to walk across the balcony and climb in his window. That took him like an hour to do, so after a few turns, I said wait here; and I'd climb in for him. It was a pain in the ass and a totally thankless chore. I mean he never said thank you or in any way showed his appreciation. I asked him about his paintings once, maybe told him about mine. He just asked to be let in and for the rest ignored me. But I did it anyway. I just did it. Wasn't even that I felt sorry for the old fool. I did it without argument and did not feel like a better person for it.

...Compare that with DeeDee Ramone. He lived there after the old man died and likewise he used to forget his keys all the time. But having DeeDee knock at your door was a whole lot more fun. Especially if you had girls over. I was earning some kind of points having DeeDee Ramone walk through my house. DeeDee walked through my house on my terms; with the old man it was all on his.

Is this characteristic important to you or help define who you are?

PS: Charity. I've always been generous but I can't remember ever being charitable. I've donated dozens of paintings to charitable causes but there was always a catch. They were usually posh auctions where being invited was in itself worth the work. And I've carried medicines and school supplies to various tribes living deep in South American and East Asian jungles but my concern was less their well-being than their welcome. In either case Charity left the house; she dressed up and came along to the party.

I've rarely given something away unless it was an attractive thing to do. Don't get me wrong, something given with sincerity is a beautiful thing.

Keys seem important. Are they to you?

PS: St. Peter, he's always got keys, right? Keys to the kingdom and all that. I'm not keen to unlock stuff though some stuff is interesting by sheer virtue of being under lock and key.

What do you hope to unlock?

PS: I've got a bicycle downstairs; it's locked up and I lost the key. I can't be arsed to get a hacksaw and I have an extra bike. I wouldn't mind unlocking it just because it's been sitting down there almost a year now. It's all rusty and sad. I'd like to unlock it just to put it out of my misery.

Do you feel that it is the obligation of someone of influence or fame to be charitable?

PS: It wouldn't be charity if it were obligatory. It would be more like taxes or something. Like when I buy someone a birthday present and they say: you shouldn't have. Of course I shouldn't have. Should would take all the fun out of it. And influence usually implies income and when income goes up so do taxes.

Charity likes the dark, quiet corner between a benefactor's wants and a recipient's needs. For me she was at her loveliest when Stanley (the owner of the Chelsea Hotel) let months go by without asking me for the rent. I'm sure he had neither faith nor hope that he'd ever get paid. Every now and then I’d put some money in his account but not nearly enough. I had figured that's what was keeping him off my back. Then one day Stanley says Peter, I've been wanting to talk to you about buying one of your paintings. It came as a very pleasant surprise. I hadn't imagined Stanley would be interested in my work. He came to the studio and picked out a substantial painting. I was thrilled, I thought this will keep me going for months. The next morning I expected to find a check in my mailbox. And the morning after that. For a couple of weeks I asked Jerry: anything from Stanley? Are you sure? It didn't end up in the wrong box? Fall through the cracks? Finally I asked Stanley. He clearly hadn't wanted to talk about it. After the price of the painting I still owed back rent. And I'm not entirely sure Stanley wanted a painting in the first place. That was Charity at home, all night, with the lights turned off.

Is there such a thing as something for nothing?

PS: Depends on your imagination. Like if someone asks me for spare change. I'll give it to them if they are either charming or convincingly needy enough. Either way that's not something for nothing.

Tell me about this street dweller encounter.

PS: I don't often give change to the guys on the street who ask for it. But that's here in Amsterdam where there's only like three guys who go around asking for money. I've gotten to know them by face. They go around from cafe to cafe and there are certain people, always the same people, that they'll hit up for a couple of euros. I know a couple of these guys. Friends of mine. They'll stop in the middle of a sentence, oh shit there's whatsisname and start digging in their pockets for a coin. Like tithing. I've asked them about it. They say they can't afford the price of saying no.

Who do they think they would owe for saying “no”?

PS: I don't know, some bearded old white dude maybe, some Protestant god of guilt. These friends of mine, they seem almost embarrassed by having to take the time for such a transaction so it's not vanity, it's not a matter of showing off some generosity. It seems more a matter of: here, take this coin and go away so I can again forget about you until next time.

Do you care the welfare of others?

PS: One time, I was with a date, walking west on 47th Street and there was this homeless woman. She was about the saddest woman I'd ever seen, so I stopped to give her something. I think I asked her if she needed help; I started rooting around in my pockets for change. Meanwhile my date, I think it was Elliott, kept walking. Right behind her, maybe fifteen, twenty feet, there's a guy walking in the same direction. He asked me what time it was. I told him. By the time I realized that I didn't have any money, Elliott was around a hundred feet away, so I shouted at her, “Hey, got some money?” The whattimeisit guy turned around and said, “Sorry brother, I can't help you out!” The homeless lady and I almost pissed ourselves laughing. I can't remember if I came up with a few bucks but we'd had a good laugh.

Is laughter enough of a gift?

PS: I think it's good if Charity gets dressed up and comes out but at the end of the day she mustn't have too much of a good time. Charity stays sober.

Elaborate, please.

PS: No, laughter is not enough. For someone like this woman on 47th Street, laughter is only slightly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

I once took a friend to Puerto Rico. He hadn't left the city in years, badly needed some sun, a holiday. It was an emergency. David fell asleep on the beach on our first day there. He was so very tired. We'll go the disco later on, I figured; for now let him sleep - what did I know from sunburn? He got burned so bad he had to spend the next three days indoors. I felt terrible. I'd wanted to show him the time of his life. I'd wanted to have taken a friend on an exotic weekend. I'd wanted to go to the disco. I'd Hoped and had Faith that what I wanted and what David needed would conveniently overlap.

Tell me more about what you hope to get out of this upcoming tour with The Woodwards. Do you see this as an investment in something that will hopefully benefit others indirectly by allowing you to do or show the work that otherwise would not see the light of day if not funded?

PS: Yes. I believe that the world will benefit from The Woodwards. It's very good work. But the pleasure is all mine. I didn't start making music - I didn't so much as sing in the shower - before I was 47 years old. Even if it wasn't great work I would take it all the way home. I was wondering about it for a while, wondering if it was just me that thought it was good. I wondered if maybe I was delusional. But then I realized that even if I am delusional, let me run with this. I mean, can you think of a better little red sports car for a middle-aged man? I'm busy doing something that seventeen-year-old kids dream of doing. "Dream" being the operative word.

This campaign by The Woodwards isn't charity. We're doing this tour whether we get funded or not. Imagine if we're the new sensation and instead of the twenty five hundred bucks we're asking for we get two hundred and fifty thousand. Well that wouldn't be charity, it would be something else. It would be very cool and deem well for the smart people of the internet but it wouldn't be charity. If charity looked like that, this would be a perfect world.

When playing cards there is a saying “going all in.” Have you?

PS: I am all in to the frustration of friends and family. I am no less than obsessed.

What about the power of the mind as a mode to create change. Do you feel that if you think good thoughts our condition can change like the transcendental meditation approach that David Lynch and others are fans of?

PS: I guess I'm old-fashioned in that sense. I figure you can behave your way to better thinking before you can think your way to better behavior. I'm sure David would argue that meditation, like prayer, is behavior, it's something you do first with your body and then with your mind. I'm sure he's right but I have neither patience nor attention span. I tried meditating once. I remember sitting there wondering if I was meditating yet.

Alan Kay, an American computer scientist, is famous for saying, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Does this “If you build it they will come” mentality resonate with you?

PS: I don't know what to think about that. I've had too many lean years as an artist to fully agree. I figure if you build it, and you build it well, then you've built something well. But still it's gonna be the free beer that gets people to show up.

I guess what I am asking...do you consider yourself a cultural court jester or an alchemist through what you do?

PS: I can't imagine a difference between jester and alchemist. I'm either when I'm at my best. My paintings are pretty serious, while in my music I make jokes, usually jokes about difficult things. The part of your question that I think I'm not, though, is "court". There ain't nothing court about me.

Postscript: What's next for Peter?

PS: I don't know where to start. I'm supposed to be writing a book. There are a few formidable publishers putting no small amount of pressure on me to write down my stories and I will, I'm gonna do it as soon as I'm not quite so busy singing and painting. Most of it's written already but I can't be asked to clean it up. The album comes out in November. Then there's The Woodwards tours in the U.K. and then January we're touring the Benelux countries. I have a couple of commitments to show my paintings here in Amsterdam and also in Brussels and of course there's the Whitney. I just moved into a new studio overlooking one of the prettiest stretches of the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. I'm not sure what I'm going to do there, but you can be sure I'm going to do something. And there are plans for a new video for The Woodwards. It's going to be directed by the kid who starred in our last one:

He wants to rent a couple of Lamborghinis and set off explosions, etc. It's for a song called “Ursula Peterson”. The song doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so I figure sure, Lamborghinis, explosions, maybe a couple of girls, this kid is twelve years old so let him do what he wants. We all know that the only reason he wants to make the video is to get closer to that couple of Lamborghinis. Like I said, he's twelve years old. The budget for that is already covered, so let's go. What's next for Peter? Geez, I don't know, I'm fifty four years old, surprise me!

Here is a link to the campaign: The Woodwards European Tour Crowdfunding

More about Peter…

    Peter Schuyff was born in the Netherlands in 1958 and emigrated to amerika in 1967. His artistic ambitions brought him to New York at 18; he lived at the Chelsea Hotel for much of the following two decades. His paintings have been collected by Dennis Hopper, Sylvester Stallone and others; he has been commissioned by Gianni Versace. His work can be seen at www.schuyff.com. He counts among his friends, colleagues and neighbors Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, Herbert Hunke, Dee Dee Ramone and Ethan Hawke.
After the turn of the new century, Schuyff began writing and singing songs. He says that these songs are the paintings he has always wanted to make. He moved to Amsterdam and recorded his first album.The Woodwards’ eponymous 2009 debut album was produced by Attie Bauw (Judas Priest, Bootsie Collins, Simple Minds) and featured Rob Kloet (The Nits) on drums, Gwen Cresens on bandoneon, and Signe Tollefsen singing backing vocals. The single “I Wanna Woman” was released with an accompanying music video directed by Tycho van Zijderveld.
The Woodwards have since seen two new EP’s (Burn Everything, Twenty Toes), two changes of line-up, regular shows across the Netherlands, a tour in the U.S. and four tours across Europe. In 2010, after the release of Burn Everything, The Woodwards became a duo when Peter was joined by British singer Stevie Guy (Y'r Impossible, Johnny 5th Wheel, and The Cowards) who was first heard on Twenty Toes. Peter and Stevie (The Woodwards) are back working with Attie Bauw on their second album. Rumored to be ‘following a new direction’, the album is due for release in November 2013. There will also be a full UK tour and the release of an autobiography entitled Peter Schuyff Has-Been, illustrated by Charlie Roberts.