By Graham Chalmers
Yorkshire artist Pete McKee loves pop music and pop musicians and, it has to be said, love him back.
That’s why people like Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher happily agreed to get involved in his latest project - something music fans, especially aficiandos of vinyl, won’t want to miss.
Called Thud Crackle Pop, his new show is an amazing art installation in which McKee shows off his latest witty and stylish paintings in a handbuilt recreation of a record shop.
This fortysomething artist from Sheffield said: “Anyone who who comes along can buy my art like buying an album. The idea is that, among the real records which are from my collection at home, my own prints will also be in the racks. There will be limited editions and rare sketches and collectible works.”
Putting the ‘pop’ into ‘pop-up’, Thud Crackle Pop is only be at RedHouse Originals gallery in Harrogate for two days this weekend, (Friday and Saturday) - the ground floor being completely transformed from gallery to indie record store.
It all sounds more like a rock tour than an exhibition.
Pete said: “I’ve always promoted myself like a band. The paintings are my demos or singles and the exhibitions are my albums. There’s no difference between an artist and a musician.”
I ask him whether the title of the exhibition was inspired by the similar-sounding Snap, Crackle and Bop, the title of a classic album by one of the many famous musicians he has painted, the legendary John Cooper Clarke?
“It was one of my favourite LPs when I was growing up but it’s more a nod to the Kellogg’s Rice Crispies advert I loved as a kid.
“But it also refers to the noise of the needle hitting the vinyl on a record player. Art and music already have a history together through album sleeves. I always play music while I’m working.”
Using household emulsion on board with pastel colours, his skinny caricatures of modern pop figures standing on their own, may be mistaken for cartoons at first glance.
Look again and it’s clear below the flat surfaces lies hidden depths. McKee’s art seems to capture the spirit of music and musicians, making it all look so cool, like rock n roll ruled the world.
Many artists have been inspired by music over the centuries but it’s been along time since anyone as good as McKee used it as the subject matter itself, not since the heyday of original pop artists Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton.
But that was nearly 50 years ago. Today McKee is one of the few contemporary artists still in love with the modern pop world.
McKee, himself, is aware of his artistic references which inform his work.
“The hallelujah moment for me was seeing Partrick Cauldfield’s paintings, those black lines and the flat colours.
“I also like Herge, the creator of Belgian cartoon Tin Tin and Edward Hopper. I connect to the melancholy of his lone figures.
“I think it’s important to express emotion in your work – and humour.”
With his impressive quiff, it’s easy to imagine this likable character on stage himself, perhaps as a Mod.
It’s a bit of a surprise to learn that, when not painting, the artist plays to decent-seized crowds in the Everley Pregnant Brothers, a group he calls a “parody ukulele band.”
No wonder when asked to select their all-time records for two of the exhibitions’ prime works – My All Time Top 10 parts 1 & 2 – the likes of Mary Ann Hobbs, Irvine Welsh, Sir Paul Smith, Paddy Considine, Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller all said yes.
Success comes at a price, however.
Pete laughs: “Doing the paintings of the record buyer in a record shop nearly killed me. I had to paint all those famous album covers in the picture.
It was important to get all the details just right. It took a lifetime to do!”
l Thud Crackle Pop by Pete McKee runs at RedHouse Originals gallery at 15 Cheltenham Mount, Harrogate on Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8 only, 10am-5pm.