Delic partnered with celebrated artist, Peter Schuyff, to create wildly expressive pullover masks and they’re amazing.
On the other side of a successful White Cube gallery show, Peter is riding out the epidemic at his home in Amsterdam. Peter chatted with his longtime pal and former producer, Scott Griffin who currently operates out of an enormous Jacobean mansion in the beautiful Hudson Valley.
It’s a Sunday afternoon and with nearly 3,000 Nautical miles between them, two friends hop on the highway of intellectual mind sharing (some call it a phone call) to discuss adversity, the creative process and psychedelics. This is the first time Peter has offered his work to the community in this new way. His art is becoming more accessible than ever before. Did we mention, we’re delighted?
With plenty of sunshine to light their way, Scott and Peter take time to learn new things about one another. Do you want to look inside? We do.
Journey with us…
Peter Schuyff: So you have some questions for me?
Scott Griffin: Let’s just start off, Peter, with an obvious question about COVID.
SG: Just in the period before COVID you’d been riding a big wave of success. A sold-out show in Miami, multiple new publications, a big show in London at White Cube that was a huge success. All of these types of things that are really on the upswing and then, out of the blue, shortly after the White Cube show, COVID hits.
SG: How did that affect you?
PS: It’s affected me more in the last week than it has in the last few months. I was really enjoying myself for a few months. The solitude, the loss of choice, was a real luxury. But now all of a sudden it’s kind of dawning on me what I’ve lost; I’d been looking forward to this for so many years. So yeah, I’m very sad about it. Just about the opportunities of mine, specifically the White Cube show. And not so much that people aren’t going to see it, but that I’m not going to see it, and I couldn’t kind of party and lap up the attention.
PS: But it’s not the first time that important shows of mine have been hit by disasters. A show of mine in Paris was flooded out. There was the worst rainstorm in recorded Parisian history and it was at Sultana Gallery, which just literally filled up with water like a swimming pool. A biblical hailstorm ruined the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva. A car crashed into my very first show. On the last day of the show a car lost control and drove right into the gallery. Leo Castelli’s wife died just before my opening on Greene street. Well, Mary Boone went to jail—you know that story. I’m batting a thousand.
SG: I really feel for Mary. I really, really do. This must be very hard for her. I’ve got to write her a note.
PS: Well she’s out, you know. She’s been released.
SG: I didn’t know that.
PS: Yeah, she’s been released because of the COVID thing.
SG: I’m so happy to hear that.
PS: Yeah, she’s home.
SG: So Peter, to tie in to what you were just saying; unexpected adversity has played a role in your work for some time. So in years past, how would you say that that adversity has changed or fueled your work?
PS: I’ve told myself that I thrive in adversity. Like when I moved to Vancouver as the chain-smoking, hard-drinking New Yorker. That woke me up for a couple of years.
SG: From living at the Chelsea Hotel, right?
PS: Yes. The adversity can be entertaining but I think I’m better fueled by cooperation and love.
SG: And why do you think that’s true this time in particular?
PS: I don’t know. I suppose it’s all been leading up to the show at White Cube, I see those big fearless paintings that I painted 35 years ago and then all of the sudden the rug is pulled out from under me and then coming home and being under lockdown, I was inspired to take account. To have a reckoning. And also because I was afraid, and so I wanted to make kind of tokens of my greatest hits. I wanted to paint currency. There are definitely paintings that are the product of, well, let’s call it insecurity, or fear.
SG: Sure. It’s interesting when you say it was a kind of reckoning. It sounds to me like it was also a kind of recording.
PS: Yes. Absolutely. An accounting.
SG: And are the recordings the feelings that you had? Meaning, after the White Cube show of seeing paintings from 35 years ago? Or is it also a recording of feelings that you’re having now regarding COVID?
PS: They’re not feelings. They’re urges and inclinations. One of the elements of this project that satisfies me most is its sheer quantity. It’s something that I’ve looked for often like with the sculptures, it’s something that when you see them you can’t help but to go, “Oh shit.” It’s a product of the calories burned making it.
SG: I think your work in many ways, from a purely, I don’t know if I want to use the word technical, but from a practical point of view, it often involves limitations, right?
PS: Absolutely. Yes. I like the word practical.
SG: Limitations to impel or drive the creative force in the same way that someone like George Perec, or Raymond Queneau, or any of the people in the Oulipo in Paris used restraints or limitations as a way of fueling creativity.
PS: Rules keep me from having to think too much. Once I have those rules down I can knit until I have a quantity, until I have an amount.
SG: And in so many ways COVID, which is sort of the mother lode of limitations, has really put a bunch of different, new, and unexpected restrictions on your ability to create work, or in the way in which you create work. What would you say some of the limitations have been in the COVID period?
PS: The size of my house is a big one, of course, and not being able to leave it. That’s the biggest part.
SG: Because you can’t go to the studio, correct?
PS: That’s right, which I’m not unhappy about. But just getting back to that quantity thing, there’s one thing I wanted to say about that opening image in Ellison’s The Invisible Man. He’s collected all those lights because basically, he needs to see himself. And I think it’s the same kind of inclination. I’ve made these and I’ve made so many of them because I want to see them. And having the rug pulled out from under me so quickly, I had to make sure it was real somehow. Do you know what I mean?
SG: Yes. Like I always say, artists create evidence. Whenever an artist is around you can always tell. They leave evidence behind. Like you come to visit me at my house, and suddenly there are 17 drawings in there. And I go, “Oh, I guess Peter came for a visit.” That kind of a thing.
PS: Of course.
SG: So you’re making these pictures. But they’re not just for yourself, to remind yourself that you’re still there like Ellison’s Invisible Man, but you’re also making them for other people, no?
PS: Yes. Absolutely, Scott. You hit the nail on the head. The work makes much more sense when other people are looking at it. Easier for me to talk about, too. So all those light bulbs are maybe so that other people can see. Yes, okay.
SG: So, in that sense there’s a sense of the public good, should we say? I mean if people are to like your work, then you would consider that a form of contributing to the public good?
Public Good + Responsibility
PS: Well I don’t know, it’s a “dog and fire hydrant” kind of thing with me. That’s the image I thought of when you talked about me leaving all those drawings at your house. It’s me leaving my mark, you know?
SG: I understand. But I think this concept of the public good right now … I don’t know what it’s like in Amsterdam but, well, let me just ask, are you feeling a lot of people bonding together in a sense, towards a betterment for the public good? I mean, certainly, isolation is one example, but are you seeing other examples of citizens of Amsterdam thinking more outwardly towards the public good?
PS: Not really, Scott. Not really. No…I mean little pockets here and there. Before the lockdown was mandatory, although it never really got mandatory here, I was really impressed by how people were staying home. But no, I see virtually no masks on the street. There was a small Black Lives Matter thing up the dam, but no. But that could also be because I’m not leaving the house.
SG: And then, who can watch the news these days? It’s so painful, you know?
SG: But at the same time, I think that people wearing masks going out, although it is a form of protecting themselves, it’s also something done to protect the public good.
PS: But that is basically the purpose of a mask, isn’t it? The mask is more to protect your neighbor than to protect yourself, isn’t it?
SG: I certainly think if I saw someone wearing a mask, I would feel greatly respected that they cared about my safety, too.
SG: Gertrude Stein said, “I write for myself and others.” And in the same way you’re saying that you are making work to create evidence, both for yourself, like Ellison’s Invisible Man, but you’re also contributing something towards the public good. It’s interesting here how those two feelings mirror the concept of making art. In this case, you’ve put your art into a mask, because it’s serving the original aim of why you’re making art in the first place. And at the same time, here we’re actually applying a functional use to the masks in that they also serve a public good.
PS: Maybe that’s why I’m so very excited about it. I have to say, when I first came back from the opening at White Cube, the first few days that I sat here, I really felt like, “Why bother working?” And I felt no curiosity, no appetite to work at all. And that’s a clue for me that it’s very much about public consumption. I make the work for my community, definitely.
SG: I heard you say, “I make the work.”
PS: If the community doesn’t have access to the work then I might as well not make it. Or if that community is not interested in the work, then I might as well not make it. My friend Neil Campbell said, “Oh, okay, well you call me back in two days and tell me that.” And indeed two days later I was busy working on these new watercolors.
SG: It’s interesting, Peter, how these incentives align between your need to make work as evidence for yourself, as well as a greater social connection. So, to include those two principles into this mask, really is achieving an aim that wouldn’t ordinarily be achieved without the need for the pandemic, no?
PS: It’s true, although it’s such a handsome mask I think I’d be tempted just to wear it to keep warm in the winter or something, I don’t know.
SG: I thought the same thing. I guarantee you couldn’t find anything more chic on Madison Avenue.
SG: COVID has mandated all sorts of restrictions in these sorts of things, which in some ways are similar to any artist’s practice: having to wash our hands repeatedly, wear masks, stand six feet behind people, physically distance ourselves, that sort of thing, this also becomes a kind of discipline, right? So, COVID has brought out elements of both discipline and practice, which is very much, I think, what an artist’s work is all about.
PS: It does. Yes. My discipline and practice prepare an opportunity to listen. That’s how it comes. It seems the same as my experiences with psychedelics; arrangements conspire towards an opportunity to listen. One thing that the discipline and the rules do for me is keep me from having to think so then I can do it automatically. Before, I called it knitting. And that’s also why the quantity is of consequence. It’s really a product of my clever fingers. I’ve kind of left my brain in bed. I don’t know if I’m explaining that very well.
SG: When you say you left your brain in bed, I mean obviously the works that you’re producing are a product of years of experience. If you’re doing your “greatest hits” from earlier periods, they’re still coming from somewhere. If it’s not coming from your brain, meaning it’s not an intellectually wrought-out process, where do you think that energy is coming from, if not your brain?
PS: I guess it’s a process of distillation. By the time I’m doing it, it kind of does it itself when it’s working out, and I can just go to sleep, which more often than not that’s what I want to do.
SG: You go to sleep by not being so active in the mind?
SG: Scott Fitzgerald said, “All good writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath.” Does that have any resonance for you?
PS: You can’t breathe underwater, though. You have to come up.
SG: No, but I think that what Fitzgerald meant by that is when one is completely immersed in something, one is disconnected from other types of things, like thinking about, “Do I need to get back to the shore because lunch is going to be ready soon? Do I need to do this or do I need that?”
SG: The underwater part implies the submersion into the unconscious that is fundamentally necessary for work to exist or to be created in its purest form.
PS: Yes. Absolutely. I mean with these works when I go to the studio, if I’m there for eight hours it’s a really, really long day. But I’ll easily spend 16 hours without really stopping on these new works in one go. I’m just dreaming.
SG: Why do you think that that’s different?
PS: I guess it’s because I’m sitting down. It’s a much more meditative process. The rules for these watercolors are much more stringent: they’re straight lines instead of curved lines, for example. So, I can kind of afford to “go to sleep.”
SG: You mean turn the mind off?
Process + Psychedelics
SG: Right. So, Peter, when you “turn the mind off,” where does this creative spirit come from? What is its source?
PS: It comes from itself. Like all of my work, it comes from itself. Each work informs the next one.
SG: When you say it comes from itself, do you consider that itself to be distinctly a part of you? Or do you consider that more a part of the collective unconscious that you just happen to be putting into a frame, or a particular visual field of reference?
PS: Yes, the latter. Definitely the latter. In this case, it’s the difference between the paintings and the music I make. With the paintings I very much feel like a catalyst, like I just work here. Whereas, my music making is very much my own. If I were shipwrecked on a deserted island, I don’t think I would make paintings. My friend Neil would disagree.
SG: You’re saying that the source for the paintings comes from some sort of… let’s say, for lack of a more precise phrase: a kind of a circuit. That you’re making something that you intend, that is coming through you, but is also meant to be completed in a circuit by being seen by an observer.
PS: Yes. Sure.
SG: Can we say that the process of making these paintings is an effort, in effect, to be seen?
PS: Absolutely. 100%. Yes.
SG: And when you think about making work to be seen, to have your voice heard, to have your vote counted in many ways—
PS: Those are two different things.
SG: Okay, then what do you mean?
PS: First, I make them because I’m curious and I want to see them. They’re very simple equations and algorithms and I complete them partly because I’m curious, but also in part because they are kind of calling to be seen. Not necessarily liked, but seen. Not even necessarily associated with me personally, at least not compared to the music I make with The Woodwards.
SG: Because the music is more conscious.
SG: So when you say they are calling to be seen, where are they calling from?
PS: Its voice. It’s almost kind of a logic. By the time I get to work they are inevitable somehow. I mean, that’s a really difficult question, Scott.
SG: The great Joni Mitchell wrote, “Life is for learning,” to which I always respond: if you’re lucky. If you’re doing it right. But they still seem to be coming from a place that is within you, but not within you, at the same time.
PS: Yes. I’m not sure how, it’s hard for me to recognize it as being from within me. It’s easy for me to take credit for the dexterity, for the wrist action and maybe for some of the conceptual decisions, but I do try to leave as much to chance as possible. Also, because it satisfies my curiosity.
SG: But there is a feeling of the collective unconscious here, in a sense.
SG: Look, we haven’t even really talked about psychedelics yet, which I want to, but in many ways here we’ve still talked about Gertrude Stein: “I write for myself and others.” It implies a circuit. When we were talking about isolation, it implies a disconnection of that circuit. When we’re talking about tying these together into masks, they’re both because one wants to look good, but also as a way of protecting the social good, right? In that way is this kind of an integration, or a re-combining of elements that allow that circuit between the artist and the community to share these things, and at the same time share them for the public good?
PS: Yes. And it’s absolute serendipity that it has worked out so well.
PS: I think serendipity also plays out a lot in my work. A lot of these, I’m not going to call them experiments, but a lot of these situations I put on paper or canvas: they don’t work.
SG: In many ways, chance favors the prepared mind.
PS: I definitely have to be awake. So maybe going to sleep is a bad analogy because I do have to be awake. I can’t go to sleep. But I can certainly rest.
SG: Again, swimming underwater. Because you’re in the flow of life.
PS: I like comparing these to knitting. I’ve heard so much about dexterity and about getting out of the way in order to find the freedom to do it perfectly.
SG: Right, but in order to do that perfectly it requires a lot of discipline and practice.
PS: Yes. Like an athlete.
SG: Exactly. And so do you think that combining your art into these masks is in some way mirroring back to the world, in a very positive way, something that’s beneficial for the social good? Mirroring back the need for discipline and practice?
PS: Whenever I’ve taught in art schools, discipline and practice have been 99% of what comes out of my mouth. I think it’s number one, somehow. Not only in the studio, but if we’re going to survive as a people. It doesn’t come really naturally.
SG: Not for me, for sure.
PS: [Laughs] No. But then wearing a mask, that’s also a practice that is somehow at odds with human nature. A mask is uncomfortable. And human nature doesn’t really do discipline and practice very well.
SG: But there are things that need to be encouraged for the social good…
PS: There is a word, generational … we talked about this at one time, generational something or other, it’s the term for how it’s really against our nature to do something which would benefit not us, but the next generation.
SG: The cliché form is: paying it forward.
SG: Would you say that discipline and practice in the studio is very much a ritualized process?
PS: I suppose it is, now that you put it that way. Sure.
SG: What form does ritual play in your life? Are you a ritualized person?
PS: I think they’re more akin to habits than rituals.
SG: In many ways habits are unconscious forms of rituals.
SG: Whereas a ritual is something that’s more self created. You’re choosing an intention to do that. Certainly when one, I’m sure, sits down to make a painting, there is an intention to make a painting. That in itself is a ritual as opposed to, it’s five o’clock in the afternoon, and I have to have a drink. That’s a habit.
PS: Sometimes I’ll have a formal think about my work while I’m on the bicycle on my way to the studio. Beyond that I am a slave. Maybe there are some rituals when the painting is finished.
SG: Let’s talk about the development of your unconscious here in terms of psychedelics. When do you first remember encountering psychedelics?
PS: I did psychedelics when I was a kid, not having any clue what they were. I did MDMA when I was either 14, maybe 15. We did mushrooms a lot in western Canada. I had no idea what they were, I was just a kid getting fucked up. Then in the early 80s, sort of hand-in-hand with my early success, I discovered opioids. For a few years they were really helpful in terms of creating the stamina to work.
They gave me the strength to work without having to think too much. Opioids were a great way to access my creativity.
Obviously that became very destructive very quickly, and totally stifled my creative process over time. Since then, I’ve discovered psychedelics more as a way to access reality than as a way to escape from it.
SG: That’s interesting. How would you say that your more recent experiences with psychedelics have helped you access reality?
PS: Perspective. Even when it’s not been particularly pleasant. It’s left me with a perspective that I certainly did not have before.
SG: And what is that new perspective?
PS: It depends on the day. It depends on the argument. Sometimes it’s just a release of pressure from whatever opinion I might have had, or just allowing me to open my heart a little bit to something which is either difficult or just a bad perspective. It’s like when you have a “situation” – you can talk with a bunch of people about it. They may tell you what they think, then you walk away with having some more perspective than you started with. It’s as simple as that I think.
SG: In many ways that that’s very much like the concept of leaving art as evidence. In the lyrics of Howard Ashman, who wrote a song in the Disney musical, Beauty and The Beast: “There’s something there that wasn’t there before.”
PS: Although it was probably there before, I just didn’t stop and see it, or hear it, or whatever.
SG: I totally understand. In a letter from Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, he writes about the fact that he’s often felt like a bulb that had been buried under the earth for many, many years, and finally grew up into the sun. Then slowly, over time, he opens like a flower, leaf by leaf. Until he feels that at a certain point he has reached “the inmost leaf.”
Do psychedelics create an opening for you to discover your inmost leaf?
PS: More and more. I struggle a bit with the ultimate one. Do you think that there is an ultimate sort of enlightenment, Scott? Do you think anybody, do you think someone can achieve that?
SG: I think that many people over thousands of years have said they’ve achieved it. I certainly don’t think that I myself have, but I think that I’ve had glimpses of it, or sidelong glances at it, or more precisely an awareness that something like that is possible.
PS: Okay. Like discipline and practice, right?
SG: It has an enormous amount to do with psychedelics, I think, because you can go to a concert and take mushrooms or something like that, and have a fun time, and that’s one kind of experience. But doing psychedelics in a ritualized, safe practice really gives you access to a very different kind of experience, wouldn’t you say?
PS: Absolutely, and I’m living proof of that.
SG: Let’s talk about the paintings that are being used for the masks. Were those inspired by psychedelics?
PS: No, they weren’t influenced by psychedelics, they were more intended to influence psychedelics.
SG: Correct me if I’m wrong, Peter, but I remember you started making these psychedelic paintings right after the first time you had an experience with chocolate that included ayahuasca and mushrooms. Am I mistaken?
PS: Yeah. That happened around the same time. But I have made psychedelic murals before. I think what I’m struggling with here is that very rarely are my paintings inspired by something. I think my paintings, they function more separately than that. As a result of my psychedelic experiences, I saw the value of making the paintings that I have been making. Do you know what I mean?
SG: I do. I think that here, maybe the wrong word is inspired. Because I think inspired means it comes from somewhere else.
SG: I think a more correct word then, although it’s not often used, would be inspirited by psychedelics.
SG: Would you say that the paintings being used for the masks were in some way inspirited by psychedelics?
PS: Absolutely. When I have done psychedelics, I’ve felt that everybody should see this. That’s very much why I made those paintings.
SG: By saying “this,” you mean what you saw in a psychedelic experience?
PS: Yes. Seeing that it’s possible to open your heart, and let the world get bigger.
SG: Would you say that your work has been elevated by psychedelics?
PS: I would say that my practice has probably been elevated by psychedelics. I see more clearly…
SG: In that way, if the practice is inspirited by psychedelics, would you say that your art is seeking to elevate the life experience of the viewer?
PS: Out of the corner of their eye, sure. Over the course of months or years maybe. There is not an immediate message in my work. It’s not like that. It’s like a flower.
SG: You’re mirroring back to the world that the world is a bigger – a more mysterious place – than we may customarily realize?
PS: Yes. It’s an object, which is the product of the light, of enthusiasm…
SG: …which in many ways is very similar to the ritualized safe psychedelic practice…
SG: Peter, this is really the first time that I know of that anybody is really combining art and psychedelics in this way, particularly making it into a consumer product, and I’m not talking about broad things from the 60s, I’m talking about a functional utilitarian object that in today’s world happens to be very, very much needed.
You were then, uniquely, the first artist that we would choose because of the specific nature of your practice, your specific history with psychedelics, and your understanding of consciousness in that way.
But when we’re talking about galleries and the “art world” – a phrase and environment I loathe – we’re thinking about images of scarcity, things that create value in terms of a market, right? With these Delic masks, we’re dealing with an object that’s meant for public consumption, although they’re still in a very limited edition, right?
SG: How do you feel about this concept of sharing your work on a larger scale?
PS: I feel great about it. My friend Reiner has a company in Berlin, where they make these extraordinary tote bags out of plastic that they have reclaimed from the ocean. I made a tote bag with him. At first, I had some qualms about it, but now I’m thrilled about it. But I’m even more thrilled about this mask, because it’s actually I think very appropriate for me to have specifically that painting on a mask by Delic. It just totally works.
I just fucken love it.
The paintings for these masks are more for the psychedelic experience than they are a direct product of the psychedelic experience. They’re more to inspire than the product of inspiration.
SG: What a wonderful thing to say.
How does the issue of collectability… because, I mean, obviously, Peter, your work is very, very valuable, it’s collected by major museums around the world, billionaire collectors, etc, don’t you think that there is a strong possibility that these masks in themselves might become highly collectible things?
PS: They might. I would prefer that people wear them than collect them.
SG: In other words to share, and to be seen?
PS: Yes. They’re meant to wear. And be seen.
Peter Schuyff Masks Now Available
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