Pete Fowler: ‘I Put My Cartoon Filter On The Real World’

As he prepares for his home town exhibition, we rummage around the studio of the artist best known for those Super Furry Animal covers.

For the last fifteen years, artist Pete Fowler has been intrinsically linked to the music world. Describing himself as a music obsessive, as well as DJing regularly, he also has his own band, Seahawks. But the root of that connection is probably best traced back to 1997, when the Super Furry Animals were looking for something a little bit different for their next record.
“The ‘Fuzzy Logic’ cover had photographs of them on it, and at the time was a bit poster boy. I don’t think they were particularly comfortable with that,” Fowler confides over a coffee in his London studio. “Creation Records got in touch, I don’t know how they got my number. They said the band had seen my work, and they really like it, but they thought I was Japanese for some reason. I was like, ‘I’m from Cardiff!’ I went to see the band, and we just clicked.” Having gone on to design all, bar one, of the Furries’ album sleeves to date, as well as Gruff Rhys’ solo output, it’s a partnership that has helped increase the interest in Fowler’s other works over the years.
As he prepares for his latest exhibition, entitled ‘Oceans Of Fantasy’, at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff in December, Fowler tells of his excitement, both about the prospect of showing his works in his home town, and combining his dual loves; music and the seaside. “I grew up looking out my bedroom window at, well I say the sea but it was the Bristol Channel, towards glamorous Weston Super Mare. And I used to holiday in Cornwall with my folks, my dad used to surf, before he found golf.  We’d quite often be sat in the car with the rain hammering down, watching this speck in the ocean.”
Completing his Fine Art degree in Falmouth, with its rich maritime heritage, provided further inspiration, as well as a period living in the Isles of Scilly, boatbuilding.  After a brief rummage around his studio, he pulls out two seascapes ready for the show, bubbling and cartoon like, and inescapably Fowler. “I used to sit on the beach, eat a pasty, and paint a landscape.  And it was kind of weird, because I used to do the painting and think, yeah, that’s quite nice, but it’d be better with a UFO in it.” Oh, did we not mention the huge spacecraft included in most of the works he’s readying for exhibition? “I guess, I put my cartoon filter on the real world, and got excited about that.”
As we wander around his studio, it becomes clearer how the dual themes of the exhibition are intertwined, with paintings of “tattooed gnarly old sea dogs, jamming on a synth”, and his current work in progress, a seascape (complete with UFO, of course), viewed through a window surrounded by two synth playing figures.  There’s a selection of smaller works, all on plain white canvases, which Fowler tells us are, in part, inspired by drawing on his iPad. “I fill sketchbooks up once a month, but using the iPad has made me think differently about my paintings. Concentrating on the main image and leaving the background blank, after using it for a few months, it started to affect my painting. I thought it was just going to be a bit of fun.  But I think the new stuff would look quite different without the iPad.”
For fans of his Super Furry artwork, there’s a bit of a treat in store, as he points at a huge diorama perched at the top of a bookcase stuffed with remnants of his ‘Monsterism’ period, that he’d made for the ‘Love Kraft’ cover, and that he’s currently considering including in the exhibition. Sadly, the pyramid keyboards that Pete has just finished making with a friend, based on the ones in The Horrors’ ‘Changing The Rain’ video he created earlier in the year, won’t get to make an appearance. “That was a really fun project,” he tells us, “because it really tapped into my love of synths, and music. And at the very early stages, the band weren’t sure about the synths, so we kind of fought for it. When the video was done and dusted, about a month later I got a call from XL, asking if it would be possible to make them. They’re fully working analogue synths, so, who knows, there could be some of that on their new album…”

Pete Fowler’s homecoming exhibition, ‘Oceans Of Fantasy’, opens at Wales Millennium Centre in December.

Taken from the December 2012 / January 2013 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.