Pete Mckee Talks
The art of the album cover is a tricky one to comprehend. Whilst something as simple as a banana may suffice as a cult icon, an over-packed portrait can just as easily pack a punch. Pete McKee has taken this art and incorporated it into his own, magnificent works in the form of his Thud, Crackle, Pop exhibition. His artwork has already been championed by the likes of Noel Gallagher, Paddy Considine and Mary Anne Hobbs, amongst several others, and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to ask him a little more about his art;
Please introduce yourself – who are you, where are you and what are you?
My Name is Pete McKee, I'm an artist and ensconced in my little studio in sunny Sheffield my native town.
How did you first get into art? Do you have any particular early memories of feeling inspired?
As a nipper I was fanatical about comics, I'd devour them all. From that I started copying them and then began creating my own little characters, I dreamed of being a strip cartoonist for the Daily Mirror, as that was the paper that my Dad read and it had the wonderfully drawn Andy Capp.
Have you always been a 'creative type? (whatever one of those is)
Most definitely, it was the only thing I was interested in at school. I left with 3 O-Levels, Art, Pottery and Drama, and I quit the 6th form to be in a band and set of on a path to pop stardom. The only thing that got in the way was everyone else's lack of vision as they couldn't see how brilliant we were, the dream ended 5 years later and then I turned my attentions back to art.
Tell us about your artistic approach – who would you liken your style to and how do you go about the creative process?
I rarely do preliminary sketches, I like to act upon the vision I have in my head and try not to use photographic references unless it's a certain building or object that has to have the right detail. I can get quite obsessed when it comes to creating the right clothes for period pieces and will trawl through images to make sure I get the right shoes, etc when doing characters. My style leans toward pop art especially in my more minimal pieces but I can drift into a more illustrative field akin to Hergé, the creator of Tin Tin, often I will channel the melancholy of Hopper just so I don't become too cartoony.
Music plays a large part in your artwork, are there any particular styles/artists that you feel an affinity with?
The musician that has influenced me the most is Tom Waits, not just for the world he created in song but for his creation of Tom Waits the performer. He single-handedly ploughed his own path, out of step with everyone else and created a persona that was every much a piece of theatre as his songs.
What does music mean to you?
Music is everything to me, I hate silence. I have to have music playing around the house and when i'm working. Playing my big sisters 7" singles is one of the earliest memories I have, Sugar Sugar by the Archies is one of them. I also play piano, badly, as a way to relax.
How did you go about selecting which album covers to include in Thud, Crackle, Pop?
I asked a few friends to help me out on the genre works like Full Metal Jacket and Mods N Sods as I wanted a learned collection of the most essential albums of that genre, though Independently Minded is my choice, with a little help from Steve Lamacq. If I'm doing my own selections I try to go for iconic sleeves as ultimately one of the joys of vinyl is the art work on the sleeves.
Why is vinyl so important to you? Do you believe that it is the perfect format for music?
I just love the fact that it's so organic and physical, the noises of static the touch of the sleeves and the smell of paper, the handling of the plastic and the oportunity to hunt for rare and bargain records in shops and car boot sales makes it a joyus format. You feel special when you own a record by your favourite artist and they have taken care to produce beautiful artwork and inner sleeves.
Are there any sleeve artists that you're particularly a fan of?
David Stone Martin who illustrated many Verve Jazz album sleeves is a legend. His artwork typified the music and the era it was created in and you have to take you hat off to the art department at Blue Note through the 50's and 60's for some of the most iconic sleeves in history.
What has it been like to have your work praised by the likes of Noel Gallagher, Paul Smith and many other high-profile figures?
I have to pinch myself. I'm just a lad from a council estate.
What can expect to see from you in the near future?
I never know from one day to the next what going to happen, it always seems to arrive as a flash of inspiration in the shower then tends to get acted upon immediately, so I'm constantly flying by the seat of my pants. I do sort of have big ideas but they always seem far off in the distance, I'd love to do some animation and create a graphic novel, also some urban vinyl figures would be great, and more street art would be nice too.
Anything you'd like to add?
Yeah, UP THE OWLS!
You can see Thud, Crackle, Pop;
November 7-8, RedHouse Originals, 15 Cheltenham Mount, Harrogate, HG1 1DW
November 14-15, Kosmonaut, 10 Tariff Street, Manchester, M1 2FF
November 22-23, A Month Of Sundays, 365 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, S11 8ZG
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