Looking back now at Peter Schmidt's work, I find myself thinking "This
looks very contemporary" and "How did he cover this much territory
this quickly?" And, inevitably, I ask "Why didn't anyone really
Well, I know that the 'neglected genius' is a mythical character. It's
very unusual for real talent to be completely ignored. Peter was a real
talent, and he was not completely ignored. Instead, he was regarded as
something of an interesting curiosity, even a gifted eccentric, but certainly
somebody at the margins of culture rather than at its centre. However,
even in the few years since his death, there has been a major shift of
values in the painting world. One of the results of this has been, in my
opinion, to relocate Peter's work: it now looks very prophetic.
Perhaps this reassessment wouldn't have made much difference to Peter
anyway. For someone who watched many conspicuously lesser talents rise
to positions of respect and influence, he was remarkably free of envy.
His work was very much a personal inquiry, a continuous questioning of
deeper and deeper assumptions, a delight in finding himself in new territory
without answers, and thus innocent. We are always innocent, unless, from
laziness or for convenience, we decide to overlook the novelty of the moment,
this particular now. It seemed to me that Peter was more capable than anybody
else I have ever known of following that understanding through in his actions.
He was always alert to those little byways of thought that might open out
onto whole new vistas,and he followed them with a quiet kind of courage
and with the very minimum
He wrote to me once, "In a roomful of shouting people, the one
who whispers becomes interesting." By the mid to late seventies, voices
were being raised. The streamlining of the art-world's selling machinery
and the general Schnabelization of artistic behaviour was in full cry.
Paintings and artistic egos were growing by the acre, and the business
of marketing them had crossed over into real estate.
Peter seemed to pay very little attention to this cacophony. His work
was changing too, becoming smaller, crisper, more alive. And as everyone
else seemed to be switching back to oils and canvas (the guarantee of "real
Peter became fascinated by watercolours and paper (a certain sign
of dilettantism). In the short term, such an unfashionable decision firmly
located Peter among the Sunday painters. From today's perspective, that
assessment seems about 180 degrees off: his work is full of seeds, any
one of which could form the basis of a healthy artistic career (and many
of which probably have).
As with many good artists, one's admiration for Peter's work increases
with familiarity. To follow the threads that are woven through his work,
to watch the way that they cross and mesh with new threads and with older
ones picked up again is to see a graceful and brilliant dance in motion.
That this same pace and brilliance characterized his everyday life came,
at first, as something of a surprise. He never raised his voice.
-Brian Eno, May 1987 (printed in "Opal Information #5)