Peter Schuyff (b. Baarn, Netherlands in 1958) is a painter, sculptor and musician. He currently lives and works in Bari and Amsterdam.
His paintings radiate a life of their own. Some are built on a series of mathematical and perspectival grids, others exaggerate and deform geometric shapes in a surrealist mode, painted over existing paintings scavenged from flea markets. They always defeat the ‘purity’ of any art movement through light effects and mind-bending optical illusions. Unsettling, immersive and playful, his work defies easy categorisation.
The recent lockdown saw a period of intense productivity for the artist. Taking a studio in Bari, Italy, he began by making a series of large-scale watercolours that re-visited the grammar of his paintings from the 1980s. These watercolours, forty in total, were recently published by Wilfried Dickhoff in the artist monograph entitled ‘Quaranta’. The effect of the southern Italian light in the paintings made subsequently is tangible, as he has continued to explore and test the limits of his painterly practice.
“Some of my best abstract paintings are reduced to a clearly simple set of rules which I simply have to follow till the end. I have to pay a lot of attention while taking little or no responsibility.” – Peter Schuyff in conversation with Julia Crottet, 2017.
Schuyff moved at an early age from The Netherlands to Vancouver with his family. Growing up amid the radicalism of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, he became infatuated by the irreverence and talent of art-world personalities like Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. He enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art but left after a couple of years, inevitably drawn to the New York of the ‘80s. He naturally gravitated to the East Village, at that time the epicentre of artistic life in the city (he later lived in the celebrated bohemian Chelsea Hotel for almost twenty years). Hailed as a central figure of the East Village, Schuyff sat for Andy Warhol and was collected by Dennis Hopper and Sylvester Stallone. He exhibited in the experimental and influential galleries of Pat Hearn and Leo Castelli in the early 80s and was associated with the loosely defined ‘Neo Geo’ movement alongside Philip Taaffe, Peter Halley and Ashley Bickerton.
During this time, Peter Schuyff’s practice became increasingly abstract, with an emphasis on grid patterns, chromatic shades and gradients of light, applying the paint systematically in graduated hues along a gridded composition made of concentric rhombus, rectangles or squares. Using thin and translucent layers of paint, Schuyff creates a sense of motion and luminosity, almost as if the painting was lit by an external source of light. The collusion of chromatic hues and geometric shapes creates a distinctive sense of depth and optical illusion, drawing the viewer into the painting’s pulsating surface.
As Walter Robinson proclaimed at that time, “Peter Schuyff’s new paintings, like those of the Minimalists, are ‘pure’—but, like that of his colleagues, they are pure only in their impurity. Their appeal is to our magpie eye for shiny things…these paintings are some of the best seen in New York this year – at the moment, despite the unsavoury excellence of Philip Taaffe and Peter Halley, it is not too bold to say that Schuyff is the best young abstract painter in town.”
“Even though he was often associated with geometric abstraction, pop surrealism, conceptual abstraction, Neo-geometric conceptualism, or appropriation (in the 1980s), none of these labels could adequately capture a body of work that passed through all of these movements in a coherent yet contradictory way.” Balthazar Lovay, ‘Peter Schuyff: Works 1981–1988’ in ‘Has Been’, Les Presses du Réel, 2017.
Schuyff’s recent exhibitions include Carl Kostyál, London (2020); White Cube, London (2020); Whitney Biennial, New York (2014); New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2005); In 2017, Le Consortium, Dijon and Kunsthalle Friart, Fribourg presented ‘Has Been’, a comprehensive retrospective of Schuyff’s work made between 1981 and 1989.
His work can be found in the permanent collections of MoMA, New York; MOCA, LA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Fisher Landau Foundation, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Broad, Los Angeles, Portland Art Museum, Portland, the Dakis Joannou Collection and Moderna Museet, Stockholm.