I learnt to carve pencils in New Guinea because we couldn’t talk...

Peter Schuyff is one half of The Woodwards, playing Preston’s Continental this weekend. Sarah Fielden caught up with the fascinating star about his transition from visual art to music, and his life in New York’s Chelsea Hotel...

Thursday, 28th November 2013, 4:00 pm
Artist and Musician Peter Mchuyff with Stevie Guy
Artist and Musician Peter Mchuyff with Stevie Guy

“When I moved to the Chelsea Hotel, it was the kind of place you looked forward to moving out of”, says Peter Schuyff.

Peter, 54, moved to New York from Amsterdam and lived in the hotel while part of the neo-geo artists movement in the 1980s.

“The Chelsea Hotel is where I lived and I had a lot of interesting neighbours”, he said.

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“Dee Dee Ramone was my next door neighbour, and I was there for 16 or 17 years so people kind of came and went.”

Peter counted Andy Warhol among his contemporaries and friends, and he did a portrait of Peter before his death in 1987.

He said: “He was somebody who, when I became more successful in the early 80s, he was always on the scene as well.

“At a certain point he did a series of works when he did portraits of young contemporary artists and he did my portrait as part of that and that’s when we got to know each other a little better.

“It wasn’t particularly a big deal at that time, but I guess looking back it was.

“There are regrets involved.

“I don’t have the portraits any more – I sold them about a decade ago.

“I was broke and they represented a time and a place that I didn’t remember that fondly. I sold it for a song.”

Peter said Andy died just months after he had finished the portrait.

He said: “I didn’t want to look at myself like that after a while – not the way I was living.

“It wasn’t a good time for me and I wasn’t in a state to look after it.”

Peter was born in Holland and moved to the States when he was six.

He lived in New York for most of that time until he moved back to the Netherlands about six years ago.

He said: “I had accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in New York.

“I went there as a painter and visual artist in 1980 and I did really well with that in the 80s.

“Then at a certain point I had been there 26 or 27 years I decided I couldn’t really push it much further and moved back to the Netherlands.

“It was a mad career in New York.”

Peter was recently invited to be part of the Whitney Biennial, which is an exhibition of contemporary American art.

He said: “For a visual artist that’s a bit like an academy award.

“They hire curators and one of them asked me to participate to show a particular piece that I had made a few years ago.

“I carve pencils and they want me to show them, and that was the last piece I made before leaving New York.

“At that point I had almost decided to stop painting, and for lack of anything else to do I carved pencils.”

Peter discovered his talent while trekking the highlands of New Guinea.

He said: “At night we couldn’t walk because it was dark.

“I didn’t speak the language so out of boredom I started whittling these sticks.

“I could carve them in the dark and I could carve them without looking.

“I was a painter, I am definitely known as a painter, so for the Whitney Biennial when they say my name they are going to be expecting a painter and that’s not what they’re going to get.”

Peter only discovered his musical flair after returning to the Netherlands.

He said: “I met a girl and through her I discovered I was musical.

“It started almost as a joke, I wrote a song and then about a year later a producer heard me and wanted to make a record with me.”

Peter met Stevie Guy, from Preston, after starting up The Woodwards.

He said: “I started the band and I had three women singing with me.

“At one point, one of the women couldn’t make it to a tour and Stevie stood in.

“I had always wanted to sing with one singer as opposed to three and Stevie was willing to try that and it was very successful – the rest is history.”

The Woodwards will perform at the Continental at 8pm on Saturday to promote their new album The Woodwards II.

Peter said: “I love it here.

“It’s a bit grim compared to Amsterdam but I like it, especially socially, I love the people here.”

He said he now prefers making music to paintings.

He said: “Making paintings is something I’m good at, but it’s not something I like that much.

“The paintings aren’t really about me – the music is about me.

“If I’m in a bad mood I would make the same painting as if I’m in a good mood.

“Whereas if I’m writing songs, I might write a sad song.”

Peter will perform with 32-year-old Stevie, who has sung in a punk band and is now bar manager at Preston’s Mad Ferret pub.

She described her role in the band as “to put honey on his vocals.”

Stevie frequently travels to Amsterdam to perform as part of the band, and Peter also visits Preston. Tickets for this show are £4.