Interview: Pete Fowler reaches out
Pete Fowler is an extraordinary artist whose artwork has graced some of the albums from one of somethingyousaid.com’s favourite bands, Super Furry Animals. 25ThC caught up with him to discuss the new SFA book, vinyl toys, a pyramid synth and his own musical career:
Hi Pete! What did your art teachers make of your early creations?
I mostly copied stuff when I was younger, 2000AD comic characters mostly. My school had a very small art department and I have to thank Mrs Dimitriades for being a very encouraging teacher!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everywhere and anywhere. I used to draw from myths, legends, folklore, the supernatural etc, but it can come from anywhere. Sat on the bus, stood at the bar in the pub, on the tube. I’d like to say I’m influenced and inspired by living on planet earth!
When and how did you come up with the concept of Monsterism for your creative output?
It was a long time ago. I was drawing the early versions of the toy characters while I was illustrating for a lot of magazines, back in the ‘golden age’ of illustration and decided to push the monstrous creations more and they needed a name. it kind of just came to me whilst watching The Simpsons. From there the world started to form around the name, little by little.
Does technology play a part in your creations and if so what hardware/software do you use?
It certainly does. Everything I do starts with a pencil sketch then scanned and built using Adobe Illustrator. I’ve been using that for over 15 years and it’s perfect for what I do. I’d say next to pencils, it’s my favourite medium. Kind of like second nature to me now.
As a big fan of Super Furry Animals, your artwork has graced many of the albums in my collection. When and how did you first meet SFA?
I had a small feature on my work in a Welsh language free paper in Cardiff and the band just so happened to see it and their label at the time (Creation) got in touch and the rest is history. Some people presume I knew them already as I come from Cardiff but it was one of those chance things that happened. Lucky me. I’ve had some really lucky breaks over the years, that’s probably the most important one.
In terms of the SFA artwork, is it a collaboration or do they give you artistic freedom to do what you feel for the covers?
I’ve always been given practically free reign on their covers. I think the most important thing for me is to come up with something new every time I’ve worked for them. They’re a really inspiring band so coming up with the goods has never been that difficult for me. I’m always blessed when they ask me to do anything for them. Such awesome ‘clients’!
You are also responsible for the amazing cover to their new biography The Rise of the Super Furry Animals. In my interview with Ric Rawlins he mentioned that the mobile phone was very influential to you and SFA at that time. Can you tell us more about this?
I was obsessed with mobiles, before I had one. Like the band, I was fascinated with communication and the ability to talk to anyone in the world. It seemed to usher in the mass communications we all take for granted these days. They were really exciting times. I know the band had similar thoughts about that and the idea of global communications was a big one.
One of your really interesting collaborations for me was the pyramid synth in which you were heavily involved. How did you go about creating such an amazing piece?
That came from an animated video for The Horrors that I directed. I got an email from XL recordings asking if it could be made into a real synth. So I called my friend David Cranmer who is a synth maker extroadinaire and he said, yes, I can make these.
A few months later we delivered it to the band with the second synth for Richard Russell. Minds were blown including mine! They’re basically analog modular synths that have internal speaks, lights and brain frying capabilities!
I have a collection of vinyl figures including a few of yours. How did this first come about and what was it like seeing your characters in 3D?
I started to make the early versions of these figures when I was art school and later used fimo clay to make them. I had an exhibition of my sculptures in 2001 in Tokyo and was approached by Sony Creative Products with the offer of designing a range of toys for them. Obviously I said yes immediately and from there we launched the monsterism series. I loved seeing the toys as the 3D work I did prior to that was large scale and quite expensive to make so having inexpensive toys for sale really appealed to me. I’ve always been about reaching as many people as I can with my work and thought this was a perfect opportunity to do this.
You also manage to find time to DJ and be half of the band Seahawks. What type of music do you play out and can you tell us more about the band?
Somehow I manage to find time to do that! Music is one of the most important things in my life and I have DJ’ed for years and collected records. I DJ with my friend Jon Tye and after realising we had a shared taste in music we started to make it ourselves. I call our sound disco deck shoegaze! Our sound is a combination of smooth mid 70’s AOR rock, cosmic disco and new age music. Most of our music is instrumental but on our last LP Paradise Freaks we had a few singers on there including Tim Burgess, Nick Nicely and Indra from the awesome Peaking Lights.
‘Rise Of The Super Furry Animals’ book by Ric Rawlins is out now and available at Amazon and all major book retailers. Super Furry Animals are on tour in the UK soon. Details in Facebook.
Interview by 25ThC