Sheffield artist Pete McKee is returning to the days of fish and chips, candy floss, building sandcastles and amusement arcades with his new exhibition in a former Rotherham steelworks.
The popular painter is putting on 6 Weeks to Eternity at Magna Science Adventure Centre this weekend, celebrating the long school holidays of his childhood in the 1960s and 70s.
Pete said: “I’ve not done a big show in Sheffield for about three years and I wanted to make a big statement exhibition.
“Because I love nostalgia and the period I was brought up in, I thought of celebrating the six-week holiday. I just always have fond memories of holidays, I very rarely remember the rain and boredom.”
Pete, who is 50, was brought up on a council estate in Batemoor. He remembers: “You kept yourself to yourself and very rarely ventured into enemy territory.
“There were plenty of parks around there like Lowedges Park and Graves Park so there were plenty of places to get up to mischief!
“The East Coast was our holiday hunting ground as a family, any one from the five on that coast.
“We didn’t go up to Whitby – too posh. Scarborough was as posh as it got.
“B&Bs were aspiring to be middle class!
“We used to go to a caravan in Chapel St Leonards or Ingoldmells and went to one bed and breakfast.
“When I was about 13 we went on our first package holiday to Ibiza. After that I don’t remember having a holiday for ages, sometimes we didn’t. Not every holiday you went somewhere.
“It always inevitably used to be a mate from the pub’s grandma’s caravan, which was cheap!”
Holidays gave kids a chance to go exploring on their own. Pete said: “I remember having a couple of quid in my back pocket and you had to figure out where you were on the beach. You had to find a landmark so you could find your way back.
“You didn’t come back for two hours and then you couldn’t remember where the family were and you’d get completely lost.
“I remember going in the arcades and playing on the 2p machines, then drifting back for a chip butty by the beach.
“My dad would wander off for a couple of hours to put a bet on and have a snooze.
“I had three older brothers, all considerably older than me, so I was left to my own devices. I was far too young to go with them, they said, ‘we don’t want any little twerp cramping our style’!”
Pete put out a call on social media for people to let him have their own holiday memories and old photographs to go into the exhibition and also held an event at the Moor Market so people who don’t have access to scanners could submit their pictures too. Just a few of them can be seen on these pages.There was also a Subbuteo tournament on the market day, one of Pete’s favourite school holiday games. He said: “I had 13 teams, I was fanatical. I used to have Sheffield Wednesday and they could pose as five other football clubs who had similar strips.”
Pete’s been hard at work for the exhibition, which will feature 30 new paintings because of the size of the Magna venue.
He said: “It was quite daunting, to be honest, when I first went there. All the blood drained from my face. I realised that half a dozen paintings on the wall was not going to cut the mustard. I had to pull my finger out. The show will have a theatrical feel to it with a stage setting. It’s definitely the biggest show I’ve ever done and I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s nice to use an old steelworks and the Big Melt area is fantastic. It’s nice to be able to have a big exhibition somewhere that isn’t a stuffy art gallery. The small private ones are the worst.”
Pete will be back at Magna on May 28 with his band the Everly Pregnant Brothers, who are excited to be playing alongside one of their heroes, Rotherham-born singer Tony Christie.
Looking back on his career, Pete can’t believe how far he has come from his days of using emulsion paint pots in his kitchen at night to paint on MDF boards.
He said: “It really feels like a completely different time.
“I’ve almost forgotten all those years when I was struggling to make a living without working in a factory like my dad or brother.”
“I didn’t have a degree and it came with a lot of struggle and toil but I’ve been a professional artist for the past 10 years.
“I wake up and pinch myself every morning and think how lucky I am to make a living out of what I love doing.”
The free show 6 Weeks to Eternity runs at Magna on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm and it is open to all ages.