An Antidote to Stigma

Picture by Shaun Bloodworth

Painting a Different Picture

By Pete McKee

The Sheffield-based artist Pete McKee is the second in an incredible group of artists and writers contributing to Project Twist-It EVERY MONTH on our blog page with reflections on their work and how, collectively, we can transform the way we talk about poverty. Check out Pete’s work and share the blog!


Tell us a bit about your work/art. How would you summarise it?

My work tries to explore the everyday life of the people I grew up with and those I see in present day. I enjoy focusing on the minutiae of life.

I try to tell my stories with heart and passion, with humour and also a sprinkling of pathos, which I suppose is how we live our lives from day to day.

What are you working on currently?

I have just finished a major new show called, 'This Class Works', which is an exploration of the working class and it's positive aspects. It was created as an antidote to the constant degrading the working class gets from the government and right wing press. I'm the product of the working class and I'm proud of my upbringing and the values my parents instilled in me.

Which themes appear most often in your work and why?

Love, music, fashion culture movements and football fandom. All things I have a passion for. It's the reason I can be proud of my work being honest and not replicating what i think people want to see. 

What inspires you most?

To be brutally honest, it's the fear of not being able to provide for my family if I don't keep creating. The cathartic thing is I utterly enjoy creating new work, coming up with new themes and working on large scale exhibitions. But, music and other people’s greatness is a fantastic inspiration, when it comes to filling my heart and mojo create.

 Why does telling stories – whatever the medium – matter?

An artist’s job is to connect with their audience, to stir their emotions, be that on a spiritual level, or merely making them smile. The best way to do that is to communicate with themby telling them a story they can relate to, invite them into your world and make them a part of it.

Describe your ambitions for your work going forward.

The exciting thing for me is that I don't really stick to a plan, An opportunity will present itself and I make a decision whether it feels right go with the project or pass it by. I want to do so manydifferent things that it can become overwhelming. But, I always have my big exhibition plans three years in advance to keep my eye on.

Why are artists central to aiding our understanding of poverty and hardship?

Well, I can pretty well guarantee that if you are an artist, you will have experienced poverty in your quest to make a living out of what you love doing.

I was pretty much skint for 45 of my 52 years, facing serious debt. 

How can the visual arts influence the stories we absorb to do with poverty?

I guess it's all to do with the ability to strike a chord simply, without reams of text.

Recommendation of the Month

This month the Project Twist-It team recommend (if you can get it on TV or online) watching the BBC’s The Mighty Redcar. Here again is a wonderful antidote to the negative bombardment we’ve become used to from TV ‘reality’ depictions of people on low incomes or who need government assistance. It is the opposite of ‘poverty porn’ and worth every minute of your time.