Pete Fowler is an artist and musician, whose artwork has famously graced the albums, singles and videos of Super Furry Animals, The Horrors and Clinic, as well as acting as a contributing editor for GQ magazine, creating an international fanbase for his World of Monsterism and counting the spoon-bending Uri Geller as a collector of his work.
After an eventful fifteen years at the sharp end of the music and art industries, Cardiff-born and raised Fowler is making a triumphant return to his homeland, with his Oceans of Fantasy exhibition at Wales Millennium Centre (8 December 2012 – 30 February 2013). To mark the occasion, he has dug out some career highlights and let you in on his inspirations.
SFA Lovekraft LP cover (2005, mixed media)
“When planning my show at Wales Millennium Centre, how could I not include some of the work I’ve created for the Super Furry Animals? I started by designing the cover for their second LP Radiator back in 1997 and this is the design for their Lovekraft LP. It was never taken for granted that I’d be involved with every album by them and each time we (me and my friend Mark James have collaborated since the SFA’s MWNG album) approached the design for each LP we wanted to come up with something new, just as the band did with their music. As the LP was mixed in Brazil, we decided to draw inspiration from there and make a miniature set, or diorama, that could be photographed. Making a scale model of a South American plain from scratch was so much fun. It took me back to my younger days of model railway sets and the decoration around them. I think a sense of play is really important with the work created for SFA and we certainly played around a lot in making this table top-sized model.”
The Horrors, Changing the Rain (2012, video)
“I’ve a history of working with bands, most famously with Super Furry Animals, but when an email arrived with the offer of working on a video for The Horrors, it was a real surprise. I’ve had been interested in them since their first album, it touched on a lot of psyche and garage that I’ve been a fan of for a long time and have seen them develop from then to where they are now. An annoyingly talented bunch of young men! I wrote the concept, created the visual assets and directed the video with the wonderful Made Visual Studio.The animation took an intense 4 weeks of long days, and nights. As with working with SFA there was a lot of trust involved that I’m grateful to the band for letting me pour out my imagination onto the screen. It was such a great track to work with, again, like SFA’s output and a bit of a gift to a psychedelic lover like myself. I later designed two bespoke, pyramid synths as featured in the video, commissioned by the band’s label as a gift for the band, using analog technology, car stereo speakers and cosmic, in-built lights. I’d love to think that one day the sounds made by these synths could creep into The Horrors music.”
Joe Meek in space (2006, acrylic on canvas)
“I’ve long had a minor obsession with the legendary music producer, Joe Meek since hearing his I Hear a New World LP, having previously been struck by the weird keyboard sound used on Telstar and the legend that surrounded him. His life was a very sad and truly crazy story, but at the same time quite inspiring. He was a true pioneer with sound ahead of his time. Conversely, he was stuck in the past, turning down working with bands like The Beatles! I really love his DIY approach and experiments with sound and recording. His methods certainly strike a chord with fans of weird analog technology. My fascination relates particularly to his affinity with space and life on other worlds, from the Telstar single inspired by the launch of the first communication satellite, to the otherworldly sounds of the I Hear A New World album. I imagined his soul to be endlessly floating in space, hence this tribute painting I did in his memory.”
To Ray Pool (2011, acrylic on paper)
“Landscapes have long featured in my work, more as a backdrop to the character work I’ve done over the years. But last year I started to focus on the landscape itself during a walk along the west Cornwall coastline. Cornwall has always had a strong connection for me as I studied fine art in Falmouth many years ago, then moved to the Scilly Isles to blag a boatbuilding job. There’s something about the coastline there that is very inspirational, not necessarily the light that artists might bang on about, but more the physicality of it, not to mention the myths and legends that haunt the county. I first exhibited this painting in London and since then, on every trip I’ve made to Cornwall, I’ve created around half a dozen or more paintings down there.”
Snorse Walks 1 (2012, iPad ‘painting’)
“I’ve had an iPad for a while and it seemed to be a frivolous thing initially, made for watching YouTube and the BBC iPlayer. It wasn’t until I bought a painting app that my opinions on this expensive slab changed and started to influence my artwork. Working with an inexpensive drawing stylus I found it to be a really interesting and powerful visual tool, bringing it closer to my sketchbook work, building up colour layers and, perhaps best of all, it had the magic undo button. The limitations of the app worked to my advantage, working without the millions of options available using more powerful image making software. As well as creating up to six finished pieces during every session, I found using the app started to influence my other painting and illustration work. I guess the simplicity of the app made me simplify my other work, getting rid of any frivolity! I’m so into working on the iPad now, I am looking into releasing an app in the New Year.”
Norse Sail (2012, acrylic on canvas)
“I chose this piece in light of my long time fascination with the sea and sailing. The mystery, danger and romance of it has always tickled my imagination, along with my time spent living in Cornwall and on the Scilly isles. Later, the sea became a muse for both my artwork and the music I make with my friend, Jon Tye, under the name of Seahawks. As well as the sea, I love myths, legends and folklore and this painting taps into my interest with the Norse men, particularly with their robust seafaring skills and the artwork they created. The Lewis Chessmen (a 12th century chess set, carved from Walrus ivory) have been an influence on my work over the years after buying a replica set from a supermarket in Japan (where else!). I grew up on the work of children’s animator, Oliver Postgate, who I’m sure saw the chessmen too. So, perhaps that’s been a subconscious influence, ever since I was sat on the living room floor watching Postgate’s Noggin the Nog.”
Storm (2012, ink and watercolour on paper)
“This is a piece that’s drawn from my sketchbook, where all of my ideas come from. Everything I do is drawn in pencil or pen, whether it is for a digital illustration, a painting, a toy or whatever the project. I always think I’m only as good as my last drawing and that keeps me pushing the boat out to develop my work further. This is a good example of a drawing that came about originally as a doodle, inspired by watching some heavy weather sailing clips on YouTube, whilst listening to some cosmic music. It seemed to sum up where I’m at right now with my work, the sea, beasts, galleons and UFO’s (synths not included).”
Van AudiOrlax (2012, vinyl toy with electronics and synthesisers)
“I’ve been designing toys since 2001 under the World of Monsterism banner. I designed this chap around 5 years ago and before I met the insanely talented David Cranmer this was just another toy. Thanks to David’s genius, he has become a synth toy! I came across David when he was featured on the London TV news one evening. His ideas were so unique that I had to track him down, and he turned out to be a truly wonderful gent and open to collaborative ideas. He helped to build two synth kits into the body and turn him into a sound toy, with his original horns being removed and replaced with aluminum touch sensitive antennae. I love objects having functionality and the ability to play with it is a really interesting feature. The sounds it can create are quite abstract and sometimes wild - fantastic for sampling for use in a horror movie or natural world documentary on creatures of the deep. Visitors to my show at Wales Millennium Centre will have the chance to play with him themselves if they’re gentle with him!”
Go to Pete's website for more information on the Oceans Of Fantasy exhibition.