Watford & West Herts Review AUGUST 27, 1987 - by Mary Taylor


The fascinating exhibition of dream-like images by artist Peter Schmidt continues at Watford Museum over the Bank Holiday weekend, ending on Tuesday, September 1. The exhibition has already created a great deal of interest: now is the last chance to see it.

Born in Berlin in 1931 of German-Jewish parents, Peter Schmidt escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 when his mother and step-father emigrated to England. The family settled down in 1942 when his step-father began work for The Observer. In 1946, when the family moved from Richmond to Wimbledon, Peter was sent to Wimbledon College. He gained a Surrey Major scholarship to study mathematics, but he suddenly decided to ditch the scholarship and turn to art. He took the foundation course at Wimbledon Art School in 1949.

After completing his National Service in 1951 he continued studying, first at Goldsmiths and then at the Slade. He supplemented his income by selling records on a stall at Cambridge Circus. This financial insecurity continued until 1959 when he began teaching at Watford Art College, and at Camberwell in 1961.

Schmidt shared his remarkable talent with students and friends, and his work was widely exhibited. In 1962 he was featured in a BBC television film (along with Ian Stephenson), and in the same year he established the Foundation Course at Watford Art School, but he never really received the kind of attention and understanding which his highly innovatory work deserved. Today his cool landscapes and quiet interiors, with their magical simplicity, do not look particularly unusual.

From the late 1950s until his death in 1980 he was a teacher at Watford Art School. His quietly spoken and gentle manner was an inspiration to the students who passed through his classes. (He once wrote to his friend the musician Brian Eno, "In a roomful of shouting people, the one who whispers becomes interesting.")

Local designer Kevin Cann was a student of Schmidt's from 1975-76, and it was his sympathy with Schmidt's ideas and appreciation of his talent that led him to organise the current exhibition at Watford Museum. Kevin negotiated with Peter's family, friends and collectors (including actress Julie Christie) to denude their walls of their cherished paintings for the duration of the exhibition.

On one occasion Peter invited Brian Eno to one of his classes, and students experimented with chanting a sheet of pre-prepared works. The day culminated in a 'performance' which was later taped.

There were many dimensions to Peter's own artistic output. He experimented with mathematics and graphics, oil and acrylic works, pen and ink designs, collage, expressionist style canvases and semi pop-art induced graphics.

Schmidt's collaboration with his friend Brian Eno for the Taking Tiger Mountain album sleeve design led him to develop a way of producing fifteen hundred completely unique posters by varying the colours of the ink on the press, rather than the normal process of maintaining particular hues for particular parts of the design.

Peter seemed driven by a search for a satisfactory style and approach. His untiring experiments were geared towards an attempt to bring the different parts of himself into a whole. Tragically, when he seemed at last to have achieved this goal with his jewel-like watercolours, he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1980 while on a painting holiday in Tenerife.