Pete McKee on perseverance, memories of loved ones and Britain's glorious working class

Sheffield-based artist Pete McKee was born in 1966, the year England won the World Cup but his beloved Sheffield Wednesday lost the FA Cup. Perhaps it is this bittersweet beginning that has given rise to some of Pete's most poignant work, images that can make you laugh out loud or break your heart.

Growing up on a Sheffield council estate throughout the 1960s and '70s has become the inspiration for much of Pete’s work. His family, his relationships, his childhood, his passion for music and his wonderful self-deprecating humour come together to create evocative images that have earned him a worldwide following.

Pete’s love of music is clear in his work too. He is a proud member of ukelele band The Everley Pregnant Brothers, alongside occasional DJ slots. Pete is also a proud patron of The Sheffield Children’s hospital’s arts charity Artfelt as well as an ambassador for the Teenage Cancer Trust and Record Store Day.

This July, he's launching a new exhibition, different to anything he's done before. This Class Works shows the pride and resourcefulness of Britain’s working class, its work ethic and its sense of community, and sets out to share that spirit with today’s aspirational younger generation.

A collaboration between himself and fellow artists, filmmakers and photographers – the show runs from 14-29 July 2018 at 92 Burton Road, a huge warehouse space in Pete’s hometown of Sheffield. We spoke to Pete about this and much more.

Family is important to you. Do you know much about your own family tree?

I can only go back as far as my great-grandfather, who emigrated to England from Bangor in what was then mainland Ireland due to the Irish famine of 1879.

Dad Skills

Dad Skills

Let Them Eat Crisps

Let Them Eat Crisps

Do you think today's youth understand what it used to be like in Britain for many people?

Well, I find it difficult to comprehend what it was like for us as teenagers in the 1970s and '80s, living a life without mobile phones. I think it was a miracle anything happened back then. Organising anything was a combination of logistic gymnastics and luck.

As for society in general, the rise of racism in the late '70s is happening again now. The troubles the youth are facing are no different – it's just easier to communicate and get too much negative information that could ruin anybody's day, never mind teenagers going through a vulnerable period in their lives.

Tell us more about your own career. How did you get here?

It's really a story of perseverance, persistence and necessity. There was only ever one career path played out for me and that was one based on my creative ability. How that was to manifest itself into something that would sustain my wife and kids would take years of trial and error (mostly error).

I continued to do proper jobs to supplement any income my illustration work brought me. I've been a factory worker, a postman and my last job was at Tesco. Twelve years ago, when I was at rock bottom and contemplating jacking it in, I did a few paintings, had a small exhibition in a pub and from that moment on, I never looked back.

National Hug Service. Always there when you need it the most.

National Hug Service. Always there when you need it the most.

The Snog

The Snog

Your work is charming and always puts a smile on my face. Is humour always a theme in your work?

Thank you, humour is definitely one aspect of my work but I like to temper it with flashes of pathos and celebratory work of our culture, music and fashion heritage.

Do you have a particular favourite piece? Why?

It's called Castle Market, it's one of my earliest pieces and features a young me sat on a children's ride and my mum stood next to me laden with shopping. My mum passed away from cancer when I was seven, so this is a little conversation with my mum. A reimaging of our time together.

Some of your most famous work has been for Oasis, Paul Smith, the Arctic Monkeys, Disney... Can you reveal any interesting stories behind the commissions?

Paul Smith is a lovely man and I’ve had the pleasure of being able to pop in to see him in his office from time to time and he's always given me invaluable advice. He has a wonderful biscuit selection, which is a bonus. His office is an Aladdin’s cave of gifts sent to him by fans from all over the world.

One of my Disney commissions features Pluto peering over a tabletop lustfully eying a hot dog. This was originally a plate of bangers and mash, but the Disney guys rejected it as they believed the Americans wouldn't get it. So my attempt to educate the yanks on British cuisine failed.

Threpeny Bit Opera. Just outside Pond Street bus station was the Threpeny bit kiosk, where workers traveling on to their morning shift or coming home from a nights toil would pick up a paper and some fags and catch up on the news of the day.

Threpeny Bit Opera. Just outside Pond Street bus station was the Threpeny bit kiosk, where workers traveling on to their morning shift or coming home from a nights toil would pick up a paper and some fags and catch up on the news of the day.

Who Needs a Fancy Holiday Abroad When You Have All This For Nowt On Your Doorstep

Who Needs a Fancy Holiday Abroad When You Have All This For Nowt On Your Doorstep

You're also an ambassador for the Teenage Cancer Trust and a patron of Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital. You've done a lot for charity. Tell us more...

I'm just fortunate that I have a talent that can be easily used for good every now and then and there are a lot of lovely people out there who are happy to spend money on my work and help these brilliant causes, and long may that continue.

What's currently frustrating you? How do you want to address it?

Brexit and Trump, and the rise of perniciousness and lack of compassion that has resulted in an event of these two cluster fucks. I shall address it by throwing my phone in the bin and avoiding the Twitter noise.

What advice can you give to those starting a creative career? Any pearls of wisdom you care to share?

Rejection should be a motivation, if it’s not, choose a different career. If you ever get to the point of having to sign a contract for the purchase of your work, get someone who knows contracts to read the fucker. It will save you future heartache and possibly thousands of pounds... believe me I know!

Finally, what inspired your exhibition, This Class Works?

As a working-class lad, I was just sick of the bashing that the working class gets. It has never been poorer in the modern age and never been more neglected and put upon by a government. The rich get tax cuts and the poor get benefit cuts. I just wanted to restore a little parity to the situation and inject some pride and love.


This Class Works runs for 16 days only and visitors will need to buy a ticket and book a time slot to visit the exhibition. Tickets, which cost £5 each and include an exhibition programme, can be purchased online at www.thisclassworks.com.