It’s difficult for me to map the influence that Peter Christopherson has had on my cultural life. Part of the problem is that my earliest encounters with his work happened when I wasn’t even aware of it. As a six year old I loved my elder brothers’ record collections, the music was, at that point, fairly incidental, it was the album covers that I loved – these bright, intriguing gatefolds that showed strange worlds and situations – this was the 70s and in our house prog rock reigned supreme.
The one cover that fascinated me the most was Hipgnosis’s cover for Pink Floyd’s Animals – I remember refusing to believe Stephen’s insistence that the scene of a pig floating above Battersea Power Station was a photograph. I can’t remember exactly why I found this so hard to accept – looking at it now though, I think it was the sky, which seemed almost too artful, to perfect, more like a John Martin painting, though of course these thoughts would not have been in the six year old me’s head – if anything it just looked ‘too real’. Recalling this now, it probably says something about my childhood mind that it wasn’t the fact of the flying pig that caused me to doubt its authenticity.
As much as I loved the fantastical work of sleeve artists like Roger Dean and Patrick Woodruffe, it was the work of Hipgnosis – Peter along with Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson – that fascinated me the most. While Dean and Woodruffe created imaginary worlds, Peter, Storm and Aubrey’s work broke down the barriers between the real and the imaginary, there was always a sense in which the fantastic was presented as mundane and it was this Surrealist approach that became an important early part of my visual education long before I’d seen the work of Man Ray, Duchamp and Ernst, and the impact of those early encounters continues to influence and inspire my work – particularly my recent collaborations with Peter Beck.
I next encountered Peter’s work in the late 80s when a friend lent me a scratchy vinyl copy of Coil’s Horse Rotorvator. I was smitten, it shattered my view of what music could be and what it could do – that something could be so beautiful and terrifying in equal measures and often and the same time astounded me. I soon found myself collecting their back catalogue and voraciously reading interviews with Jhonn and Peter. As a result of reading those interviews I began to explore what’s broadly and awkwardly termed ‘the counter culture’, I began reading the works of writers such as William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and my worldview collapsed, shifted, expanded and changed for good, nothing was true and everything was permitted.
There was another unexpected and subtle effect of my discovery of Coil’s music, I soon found out that mentioning Coil in conversation down the pub acted like a Masonic handshake. If you mentioned, for example, listening to “How To Destroy Angels” before coming out, you’d either be greeted with blank stares, or a relative stranger would come up and start talking to you – in the latter case you’d generally end up spending most of the night in conversation with that stranger, who, by the end of the evening would be a friend. There was a form of mutual understanding that if you liked Coil the chances were that you’d have a lot in common, and more importantly have other interesting things to share and soon you’d be exchanging books, films and ideas. Over the years I’ve made a lot of friends by mentioning Coil, it’s a strange ripple effect of connections that I’m sure both Peter and Jhonn would be happy with.
A few short paragraphs doesn’t seem to do justice to Peter’s life and work, but they’ll have to do, the best memorial would be for more people to discover his work, so if you’ve never heard his music or seen his art, stop reading my ramblings and go and find it.
Peter, thanks for the music, the images and the ideas, you enriched my life and the world is going to be a duller place without you.