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13 November 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > SY People > Profiles > Pete McKee

Fishtank © Pete McKee

Fishtank © Pete McKee

Pete McKee

Sheffield artist Pete McKee tells us about his special Sheffield exhibitions of 2008, and how Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher commissioned him to create a piece of promotional artwork, plus what else he's been working on...

Artist Pete McKee is always busy. In 2008, he displayed '22 Views of Sheffield' at The Bowery on Devonshire Street and earlier on that year he held a special exhibition, '33 and 1/3,' made up of that many LP-sized paintings.

22 Views of Sheffield

Pete's '22 Views' include 'Fishtank' which was in the Hole in the Road until that structure was demolished in the 1990s, and 'Kids in the Peace Gardens' which depicts the familiar sight of children larking about in the fountains.

Kids in the Peace Gardens © Pete McKee

Kids in the Peace Gardens © Pete McKee

It also has a painting which is close to BBC Radio Sheffield's heart - 'Praise or Grumble' - and 'Legends in Fagans' which shows Alex, Turner, Jarvis Cocker, Tony Christie, Phil Oakey and Richard Hawley around a table in the Broad Street pub.

Take a look at all these paintings, plus other ones from the '33 and 1/3' exhibition, and more. Just click on the link below.

Pete came into BBC Radio Sheffield in November 2008 to talk about his new exhibition with Toby Foster. Listen to the interview - plus other interviews with Pete McKee - by clicking on the links.

The subject matter for the '22 Views' exhibition is recollections of Pete's past, so it's largely about Sheffield.

Castle Fish Market © Pete McKee

Castle Fish Market © Pete McKee

There's 'Silver Blades,' the ice rink on Queens Road. Toby Foster says he and his wife Nikki used to go there when they were 14, smoking Consulate cigarettes "cos I thought my dad wouldn't be able to smell them cos they smelt of mints!"

Toby asks Pete if he thinks Sheffield has lost a bit of its character now places like Silver Blades and Redgates [toy shop] have gone... "Yeah, but it's gained a lot of nice new things as well," says Pete. "The railway station, which features in one of the paintings, is beautiful and we need that for people coming to Sheffield to realise it's a nice place.

"People used to have to walk up Pond Street to get into town and they would have been depressed before they even got to the shops!"

The Hole in the Road, Sheffield (1970s)

The Hole in the Road, Sheffield (1970s)

The Hole in the Road is another piece of Sheffield's past and one of Pete's paintings, 'Fishtank' pays reference to this. "The great but the problem with nostalgia is that it does become a bit rose-tinted," says Pete. "By 1984 when I remember it, the aromatic smells down there weren't flowers any more. It was urine. The fishtank."

And Toby recalls walking through to get to the shoe shop Rabeena for the pointy shoes. "Yeah I've done a painting about Rabeena too," says Pete - "but not for this exhibition."

Find out more about how Sheffield looked in the 1970s by clicking on the link below.

Another painting is Day Trip to Castleton. Pete explains the thinking behind this one: "Castleton was the closest day trip you had to Sheffield. But the problem was, it was always windy or there were hills to walk up, and if you're a little lad the last thing you want to do is get carted off into the countryside - you want to be sat at home playing with Action Man or your plastic toy soldiers."

Toby remembers something which he says would make a great painting for Pete: "Boxing Day queueing at Redgates [toy shop] for something that was broken. Being in a long queue of people who'd got toys for Christmas that didn't work. We seemed to be at Redgates every Boxing Day!

"Three floors of toys - that was the best toy shop in the world! You can't find a decent toy shop nowadays, even half a floor of toys."

Legends in Fagans © Pete McKee

Legends in Fagans © Pete McKee

Praise or Grumble is another painting - and one that's close to BBC Radio Sheffield's heart. The text reads, "Praise or Grumble: the first ever football phone-in, an institution still going strong." Find out more about the birth of Praise or Grumble via the link below.

Pete McKee has produced a book to go alongside the '22 Views of Sheffield' exhibition. It includes text with the paintings to tell a bit more story with the work. After the exhibition, he plans to approach more galleries around the country to take his work. "I can't keep asking Sheffield people to put their hands in their pockets for me!"

Recently, Pete has also produced postcards for the Arctic Monkeys, tour cards and a poster for Oasis.

33 and 1/3: April 2008

33 and a 1/3 was a music-based exhibition at The Forum in Sheffield which opened in April 2008.

"There's a lot of paintings directed at Sheffield people," says Pete. "This is the most 'Sheffieldish' exhibition I've ever done.

Alex, Jamie, Matt and Andy - Pete McKee 2008

Alex, Jamie, Matt and Andy - Pete McKee

"33 and a third is the revolution speed of a 12 inch vinyl album. I took it one step further and decided to do 33 and 1/3 paintings, all LP sleeve size.

"I come from an age where everything you bought was vinyl. The artwork was incredibly important to the record itself and a lot of money, time and thought was spent.

"My brother used to have some really amazing LPs from the 60s and 70s. CDs have beautiful artwork too, but it's the size of LPs that makes them seem like a genuine piece of artwork."

As well as painting, one of Pete's main passions is music: "I used to be in a couple of bands when I was younger. A lot of my paintings are quite autobiographical - there's one called A Grand Tour which is about being in a band. You may make it eventually but you can't forget the days in the back of a transit van coming back from Hull - the unsigned band thing.

"You can't ignore Sheffield music-wise, it's an absolute hotbed. There's paintings of The Limit nightclub (used to be on West Street)... a rockers pub called Wapentake which was where The Casbah is now... and there's the famous people like Phil and the Girls, Jarvis Cocker, the Arctic Monkeys... you just can't ignore it."

Pete's paintings were on sale at The Forum for one night only at half price... £333 - before going up to full price. The originals were then taken down and replaced with exact replicas on canvas which stayed in The Forum for a couple of months.

Oasis poster © Pete McKee

Oasis poster © Pete McKee

Other work

In 2007 Pete had his first London show, exhibited his work at the Art Expo fair in New York, created a poster signed by celebrities in aid of the 2007 floods, designed a special Radio Sheffield Toby Foster t-shirt, and was commissioned by Oasis to produce a limited edition promotional artwork print. He's been approached by Lucas Films (Star Wars) and Acme Archives asked him to do some prints too...

Definitely Maybe

Pete tells us about the Oasis poster:

"It's a commemorative print from the Oasis gig in Brighton in 1994. There's only 100 prints. It's a cartoon of Gallagher-ish figure, or a typical Oasis fan, in a parka larking around on a motorbike - the sort you get at kids' rides at fairgrounds - before the gig", Pete says.

'Tina' © Pete McKee

'Tina' © Pete McKee

So how did the working class Sheffield cartoonist become mates with the working class Mancunian musician?

"Noel Gallagher's a big fan and already owns a couple of pieces of my work, and then his management approached me to do this artwork... I haven't met Liam and Noel yet - but I did get a text from Noel on New Year's day saying Happy New Year - AND it says 'mate' - so I'm Noel Gallagher's mate!" laughs Pete.

McKee, who started off as a struggling cartoonist, can't believe how his success has spiralled in the past couple of years:

"It's stunning, mystifying - and delightful. I spent years working as a postman and at Tesco while I was struggling as a cartoonist. Then in 2004 I started painting and after the first year I could afford to pack in my part time jobs and just concentrate on the artwork. That alone was great, but then it started snowballing month by month.

Pete McKee

Pete McKee - 'You need the imagination'

"I'm used to sending out artwork to places like Rotherham or Bristol... but now it's Japan, LA, Brazil too!"

Sheffield roots

McKee was born in 1966 and grew up on a Sheffield council estate, which has provided a major source of inspiration for his poignant and humorous paintings.

Speaking in 2005 about an exhibition in the Winter Garden called 'The Boy with the Leg Named Brian', Pete told BBC Radio Sheffield's Toby Foster:

"It's a semi-autobiographical piece of work and it's about the trials and tribulations of growing up on a Sheffield council estate in the 70s. The title refers to a pair of hand-me-down jeans from my cousin Brian. One of the patches on my knee had his name on it.

A Grand Tour - Pete McKee 2008

A Grand Tour - Pete McKee 2008

"A lot of my paintings are quite biographical - so there's one called 'The Grand Tour' which is about being in a band and you may make it eventually. You can't forget the days in the back of a transit van coming back from hull - the unsigned band thing."

So despite worldwide attention, his Sheffield roots still inspire Pete's work; he's working on an exhibition of original artwork for Sheffield. The artwork was displayed in the Forum on Division Street in April 2008.

"The Sheffield exhibition is called 33 1/3 and it's based on music - 33 and a third paintings. No, the third one isn't chopped in three... it's drawn instead of painted.

"I sold them at £333 - half price for one night only and then up to the usual selling price."

The idea behind it was that Pete wanted his smaller pieces to be more affordable for the regular McKee fan.

Pete McKee's Big Eddie in 'Teds At Play 3'

Pete McKee's Big Eddie

Chewbacca on a spacehopper

And Pete is involved with other exciting projects:

"Acme archives sell animation artwork and limited editions. They asked me to do some limited edition prints, using my art style to interpret The Simpsons so that's been approved but not yet produced.

"And now I've been approached by Lucas Films  - the makers of Star Wars - to do a similar thing for them, along with other artists.

"I've chosen Chewbacca, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. When Star Wars came out it in the 1970s it was absolutely indicative of that era, so I've done Luke Skywalker playing on a Space Invaders game in an arcade, and Chewbacca on a Spacehopper. It's subtle English humour but the LA guys love it too! Hopefully they'll be released as limited edition prints some time in 2008."

last updated: 26/11/2008 at 15:12
created: 08/01/2008

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