Thursday, 20 October 2011

Pete McKee "Great Moments In Popular Music" Exhibition at Snap Galleries, Piccadilly Arcade, London - Ends Oct 29th

Great Labels in Popular Music No 1 - Pete McKee
Hurry! Exhibition Ends 29th October 2011

I was lucky enough to catch the fantastic "Great Moments In Popular Music" exhibition by Sheffield artist Pete McKee before it closes on October 29th. If you're in London before it finishes I can't recommend this highly enough. It is being held at the Snap Galleries in Piccadilly Arcade, London SW1Y 6NH.

There are three floors of Pete's stunningly colourful and humorous paintings and a selection of sketches too. I love the way they don't go for the obvious scenes, sometimes you think "what's that about?" but then it clicks and you can't help but smile. A perfect example would be the Jimi Hendrix painting - instead of a copy of the famous scene of Hendrix on his knees on stage fanning the flames of his burning guitar you see him before the show in a typical local hardware store buying lighter fuel!  "The Beatles Get a Haircut" is also superb, picking the moment that the band dispensed with their rock 'n' roll quiffs and got the trademark mop-tops as a defining moment in their evolution. Here is a bit more information from the Gallery:

"Welcome to our latest exhibition: Great Moments in Popular Music, as seen through the eyes of incredibly talented Sheffield based artist, Pete McKee. The ”Great Moments” exhibition is an exciting one for us as it marks the start of a broader approach for the gallery to popular culture beyond photography. This show is a wry look at the events in rock ’n’ roll that shaped lives and inspired generations to form rock ‘n’ roll bands and make history. As well as retelling tales of vinyl gods and goddesses, the exhibition also takes a look at fandom – the clothes, the hairstyles – all done with the wit and reverence that are Pete McKee’s trademarks.

Snap Galleries - Photo by Steve Worrall

If you are not familiar with Pete’s style then you’re in for a treat. Emotions are often conveyed in a single brushstroke, and while many of his paintings show off his natural wit and sense of fun, he is not afraid to deal with difficult subjects; the death of Buddy Holly is the focus of one of the paintings in the show, the haunting ‘Winter Dance Party’.

The Village Green Preservation Society - Pete McKee
For Pete, the destination isn’t as important as the journey. He explains: “What interests me more is not that the Rolling Stones are the biggest rock ’n’ roll band in the world, but that, once, they were spotty teenagers with greasy hair and a dream.” It’s how Pete’s imagination works that is the point here, and how he applies his trademark wit to the subjects we know and love, reminding us to expect the unexpected. That’s a theme that runs through the work on show.

Pete continues: “Coming up with a title for the show, I went through a number of puns and clever references. I settled on “Great Moments in Popular Music” as it’s very grand and to the point but it also allows me to be cheeky with my choice of subject matter. A great moment in music is a totally subjective point: Is it your first record? Is it the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl?”

Black and Blue - Pete Mckee

The exhibition takes up all three floors of the gallery. Visitors will see 28 original paintings on the ground floor and downstairs, while upstairs features a selection of 11 original pencil drawings and handpulled screenprints."

8 Piccadilly Arcade 
London SW1Y 6NH 
Tel: 0207 493 1152

I think one of my favourites is actually one of the simplest, its called "In Search of The Holy Grail" and features boxes of vinyl albums in what could be a local charity shop. Peeking from the central box is a copy of The Clash's first album and the description in the exhibition catalogue reads "Sure you could go on eBay and buy it online, but where's the fun of the hunt?" I think that sums up perfectly the romance and thrill of being a music fan that is somehow getting lost in the digital age. Long may Pete McKee keep producing such stunning work to remind us of those magical emotions!

In Search Of The Holy Grail - Pete McKee
With grateful thanks to Guy White, the Director of Snap Galleries, for allowing use of the images.


  1. this is a great post, we had invites to this in sheffield,however work and babysitters got in the way! ive know pete a long time as he was a couple of years below me at school and a lot his early paintings are purely the bunch of 15 year olds from batemoor,jordanthorpe and woodseats who lived this great paintings,the times ive had tears in my eyes looking at petes stuff and being able to say "yes it reminds me of my youth" check out "upstairs at harringtons"

  2. Hi Pete, nice story. Yes, his paintings really sum up what is missing from the digital media age and growing up with so many different styles, youth cults and fashions. Sure, I like the convenience of MP3s - but will artists be painting pictures of people sitting at a computer downloading MP3s from iTunes...don't think so!