Under the Influence | Pete Fowler

Pete Fowler | Under the Influence

What is crucial to the formation of an artist? Influence may take many shapes and forms, both conscious and unconscious, but its role in the creation of great work is undeniable if also – at times – elusive.  Wales Arts Review takes a deep dive into the role of influence in conversations with artists of many ilks. From musicians to writers to directors to painters, and much more in between, we hear more about the influences that have shaped some of Wales’ most important and upcoming artists. 

Here, we hear from Pete Fowler the artist best known for the Super Furry Animals’ album artwork – who talks about influence, and its relationship to him as both a DJ and visual artist. 

My dad played a lot of music on an 8-track player in the family car on long drives and holidays going through France and Spain. Mostly country and western LPs, some compilations and some early Beach Boys. I’ve always had a soft spot for country and I’m a lifelong Beach Boys fan – so I have my dad to thank for that. I remember enjoying Crystal Gayle’s ‘We Must Believe In Magic’ and it really stuck in my head. The mystical mood made an impression on me after repeated listening.

I also remember Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ playing on the radio driving through the Pyrenees, probably not long after it was released and it really freaked me out. I think that was the first totally electronic song I’d heard and it jumped out of the radio. I was heavily into 2000AD comics at the time and it sounded like the future coming through the car speakers.

I didn’t get involved in making music until my 40s but I have DJ’d for more than twenty years. Music has always been a big influence on my artwork and I always listen to it when making my work in the studio.

In terms of musical influences it’s difficult to choose a favourite but amongst the long list of my much-loved artists are Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Sylvester, Wally Badarou and Iasos. I’d probably choose different artists on any given day. I had a Casio VL-Tone keyboard as a child and remember learning how to play the hook on The Cure’s ‘The Walk’. I kind of regret not keeping up with playing keyboards, but I was having much more fun at the time riding bikes.

I think hearing the Velvet Underground’s White light/White Heat for the first time definitely made me more interested in the noise of music. I’d read about bands talking about the album and the Welsh connection of John Cale lured me in. It opened the door to more experimental, noisy and weird music like CRASS, The Fall and The Butthole Surfers. This was alongside my interest in the DIY culture of indie music, zines and visual art. It all seemed like a melting pot where the artwork surrounding the music seemed integral. For me that DIY ethos was a big inspiration for my own artwork and something I’ve carried on with throughout my career. Music has and continues to influence me whether it’s referencing an artist or a song, or, more often than not, a feeling or mood that the music creates. 

Weird and Wonderful Wales: The Water Tower Mural
Pete Fowler: Weird and Wonderful Wales: The Water Tower Mural

I’ve always had an interest in the natural world, too – monsters and the world of the paranormal, especially as a child. Over the last thirty years this has been more about UFOs, so they pop up in my work quite frequently. Myths and folklore have always interested me and I have made it into quite a few pieces and projects involving them, from Japan to Wales. In particular, I’ve looked at the Mabinogion which I explored on a project with Literature Wales.

In terms of art that inspires me at the moment, I’ll be honest, I don’t look at as much art as I used to. I tend to create my own world and work within that but I keep an eye on a lot of my peers’ work and new artists being discovered – usually on social media. I tend to go back and look at older artist’s work, too. Artists like Utagawa Hiroshige, Goya, Shigeru Mizuki and George Herriman.

I’ve closed myself off to a lot of work that used to make me question my own in a negative way and instead explore more ideas in my head, referencing the body of work I’ve created so far. Having said that, I think my filter has widened over the years to allow influences in that I’d maybe swerved earlier – and that’s certainly been the case with music. It seems to be related to getting older. I’m not ashamed to say I love Neil Sedaka!

In terms of my artistic process, I’d say that there weren’t that many outside influences that I allow in aside from music. I believe living in a city like London in 2022 has a lot of subliminal influences on a day-to-day basis. I tend to draw a lot on my studio commute and often get ideas from lots of aspects of city life, seen through a sometimes surreal or humorous lens that I try to apply to my art.

Pete Fowler Pete Fowler Pete Fowler 

Peter Fowler will be performing at Camp Good Life Festival which runs 16th-18th September.