Pete McKee

The artist Pete McKee from the city of Sheffield in the UK is renowned for dismantling stereotypes about the working classes with his exuberant, joyful paintings, drawings and murals. As part of his exhibition, This Class Works, Pete is letting Project Twist-It host some short videos where he explains the backdrop to and inspiration for a few of his works.

Pete McKee talks about his painting Night Club, taken from his latest exhibition 'This Class Works'.

An antidote to stigma


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 its 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 them by 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 many different 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.


Pete talks about how one street in Sheffield helped inspire a piece of art.

Pete McKee talks about his painting Let Them Eat Crisps from his latest exhibition 'This Class Works'

Let them eat crisps

This short video shows Pete with a painting that is a play on the words of the infamous Marie-Antoinette quote - ‘Let them eat cake’. He describes how the work is a response to “modern day misunderstandings of poverty and hunger.”

Pete McKee talks about his painting Club Book Club from his latest exhibition 'This Class Works'
Pete McKee talks about his painting National Hug Service, taken from his latest exhibition 'This Class Works'.

national hug service

The work Pete talks about in this short video was a response to his own care from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). It is an homage to what the NHS does for ordinary people beyond medical care. Its about the ‘love and tenderness” that patients experience.