His paintings sum up an aspect of his city and his generation that appeals to people of all backgrounds.
Now Pete McKee is going for the big one.
The man who started painting in his kitchen on MDF off-cuts is again painting in his kitchen on MDF off-cuts but this time he’s aiming to reach a wider - and potentially more influential - audience.
Although he has shown work in the capital before, this exhibition breaks new ground for the 45-year-old former Sheffield record shop worker.
“It’s my first proper exhibition in London at a place that usually exhibits photographs but the guy there saw my stuff and liked it so much he wanted to put it on,” he said.
“The exhibition is a celebration of bands and music that I grew up with mostly and it’s my take on some of the moments that changed musical history, some are personal recollections as well from that time.
“Like looking in a charity shop and finding the perfect album.”
One of the pictures in the exhibition shows the Beatles in a barber’s shop getting their Beatle haircuts for the first time, Bob Dylan when he was called Judas in Manchester when he went electric in the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix buying lighter fuel...
“I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket with this London show but I would like to move up to the next level in the art world,” said Pete.
“You are always wanting to secure the future. If more people want to buy your work then it takes the pressure off.
“An artist is only as successful as his next painting - especially when you are using up the money as you go along!”
He already has the eye and approval of Britain’s most successful men’s fashion designer Paul Smith.
Pete sent him some of his artwork which lead to a trip to Japan and some limited edition Paul Smith T-shirts emblazoned with McKee images.
Paul Smith is now producing 100 exclusive tote bags at £25 with a McKee image on each and Pete is hoping that those and the London exhibition at the Snap Galleries on Jermyn Street in Piccadilly will bring him a new audience.
Now THAT’S where you want to be selling your work.
“As much as I like being in Sheffield the next market I have to try to get into is the London market,” he said.
“You never know who is going to see your work and like it. I never envisaged that I would have my stuff on Paul Smith clothes or Clark’s shoes but I do. I’ll just have to see what the exhibition brings. It’s not just about getting numbers of people in through the door it’s about getting the right people in who can spread the word.”
McKee’s big-name admirers aren’t just in the fashion world - and they don’t come any bigger than Walt Disney.
Pete did some work for the American entertainment giant a couple of years ago with his observational pieces on much-loved Disney characters like Goofy, putting his own stamp on their personalities and picturing them in situations from his own imagination.
Disney loved them and have now asked him to do more.
Another collaboration with Acme cartoons that saw him invited to paint characters from the worldwide carton hit Family Guy means that he will soon be exhibiting posters and sketches of those and Futurama characters in his own Sharrowvale Road Gallery in return.
“The gallery is a year old now and we’re doing ok,” said Pete.
“Before the Acme stuff though we have an exhibition by Sheffield artist Jonathan Wilkinson called A Day In The Life. The paintings feature re-imagined everyday scenes and subject matter in both colourful and atmospheric ways. I really like his work, he’s one the best artists in Sheffield with an appeal way beyond just this city.
“Later in the year we will be putting on exhibition of Richard Hawley pictures by Chris Saunders. Things are moving in the right direction.”
Lenny thought my work was a cut above
IT WAS a chance glimpse of a McKee original in a London recording studio...
The viewer was comedian Lenny Henry - and it took him just one look to realise he wanted a McKee all of his own.
So he got one.
“He contacted me after he saw it,” said Pete Mckee.
“I was with Toby Foster and Lenny sent me a text message in his real name. I wasn’t sure who it was at first but Toby knew.
“We stayed in touch by emails and he asked me if I would do a painting for him. Of course I said yes. I sent some ideas of group pictures and individual ones and in the end he went for the group picture with Richard Prior, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, his heroes chatting in a barber’s shop.
“He liked it. It was at the time he was doing his big tour.
“I didn’t get to meet up with him but he liked the picture so that was good.”
Despite the success and good publicity of celebrity-endorsed work - Pete has also collaborated with musicians Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller - he generally wants to do fewer commissions.
“I have tried to calm it down a bit with the commissions, I do about 12 a year now.
“I want to have more time to come up with some new stuff.
“I’m always open to enquiries on commissions but I do need to come up with other ideas too.”