A lot has changed this year during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the characters in Pete McKee's artwork. His usual black lines, which derive from his iconic graphic, pop-art style with roots in cartoon work and illustration, have been removed to allow for a more painterly technique.
Aside from providing art workshops online and teaching thousands to draw cartoons, behind closed doors Pete's characters are painted with more detail, bringing them to life in a more gritty and realistic way. "I began experimenting with how I could use my materials differently so I could evolve my work," he says. "I realised that the black lines I often use had become a boundary and I wanted to see what would happen if I took them away, and it changed everything."
In the new series, Eight New Paintings, Pete continues to explore working-class life, nostalgia, and social and political themes, but in a completely new way. These are comforting scenes and people that most of us recognise, for whom we can easily imagine a backstory.
Each painting also comments on or poses questions about the lives of the portrayed characters. In Return of the Waltzer Boy, we meet an ageing fairground worker who stares right at us and invites us to question who he is, where he comes from and why he has a hardened expression. With There's No Place Like Home, an elderly woman living in a care home glances out of her bedroom window. Although all of the work in this exhibition was painted before the pandemic, this painting is particularly poignant at this moment in time and leaves us wondering, 'Who is this woman and how long will she have to wait for her next visit?'
Eight New Paintings by Peter McKee opens at Sheffield's Millennium Gallery from today until 13 January 2021. You can also view the artworks online.