Winchester resident Peter Lloyd on how he went from dock worker to artist fame

Peter Lloyd

Peter Lloyd - Credit: Archant

David Bowie, Missy Elliott, Holly Johnson, Peter Blake and Vic Reeves. You may be forgiven for speculating on the commonality connecting this impressive list of names from various branches of the music industry, television and arts.

Persuasion and Negotiation

Persuasion and Negotiation - Credit: Archant

For, at first glance, it appears to be no more than a random mix. Yet delve a little deeper and you will discover a link that unites the iconic performer with his contemporaries, not to mention a bond between the pop artist and comedian with a fancy for painting: they have all purchased work by Winchester based artist, Peter Lloyd.

Chasing the Whale

Chasing the Whale - Credit: Archant

“St Johns Estate is a glittery wrestler’s head and is probably hanging over David Bowie’s mantelpiece,” Peter Lloyd jokes from Southampton Solent University where he is Head of their School of Art & Design.

This is my first encounter with a wrestling enthusiast and I soon learn that his preoccupation with the sport has been a recurring theme since his Post Graduate Course at the Royal College. At the time, British Airways was running a competition which involved travel and how it could inform art. Peter picks up the story: “I wrote a proposal to travel to Korea to attend the Festival of Masks but the night before I was due to hand it in I realised BA didn’t fly there!” Did this gaffe deter him? “I had been looking at Mexico, too, and their attitude towards death, which they celebrate. So I wrote another proposal to experience Day of the Dead. And I won.”

In one way, the trip turned out to be disappointing. The traditional festival he was keen to observe had become Americanised. Still, allowing himself to be sidetracked by the various fiestas flowing around the city created an unexpected opportunity. “I followed one,” Peter recalls, “to a big concrete stadium where people were selling wrestling masks. This intrigued me. I went into the arena and it was mind blowing. The crowds wore masks to represent the wrestlers they were supporting; in the way fans here would wear a football strip. There were three of these events every week and I went to every one.”

With his initial attempts to photograph bouts disallowed, Peter instead took to sketching. It was a trend others were keen to follow. “A crowd of critiques gathered around me. One wrestler’s agent invited me backstage and soon other wrestlers had their own drawers. I needed to develop a shorthand as events happened quickly.» Then back in my hotel room I’d try to recall what I’d seen. Wrestling was like theatre, an arena for all things to be discussed.”

The influence of this episode is as animated in Peter’s mind as the colourful masks he portrays in his screen prints. Yet he confirms it is now time to move on.

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“I’ve had a good run with the wrestlers but I’m just about to start a new body of work following a two week stint witnessing a rodeo in Wyoming.”

Instead of telling stories through masks, he plans to concentrate on embellishing the clothing favoured by cowboys. No doubt the images will be just as vivid, given that the 1960s and pop art remains his biggest influence.

I am so caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of this Fine Art Printmaker and Screen Printer that it’s hard to imagine he started his working life as an apprentice sheet metal worker at Liverpool docks. Although he cannot recall a time when he didn’t draw, he nevertheless confesses to an early lack of career direction. Until, that is, he was introduced to a side of Liverpool he hadn’t previously encountered. Writers and journalists became his new network, providing illustrative projects for magazine covers and comic strips. The experience prompted Peter to rethink his vocation and he decided to enrol on a Foundation Course in Art and Design. But how did he take to the change?

“The job I’d been doing up to then was physically demanding so returning to education was a luxury. I made a real commitment; I sold my car and had less disposable income. But I was engaged in something I really enjoyed; it was massively rewarding and eye opening.”

At the end of the course he applied to Winchester School of Art to study fine art painting. Within three months, however, he realised he’d made the wrong choice and transferred to print making.

He explains his method: “There are a number of processes you can use. I was dry point etching at first but drawing is at the heart of everything for me so what captured my attention was screen printing. The screens are silk coated with a photo solution then my drawing gets exposed onto a photographic screen. After that, I can print that shape or drawing as many times as I want. I print onto paper then make another screen. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle so you have to think ahead. Some prints might be made up of five or six screens; others take 25 to create one image.”

Peter uses the screen printing facilities at Southampton Solent University.

“I have a small space at home where I paint and prepare work which is then taken into the School of Art & Design. During the academic year I spend Fridays and weekends on my own work. In effect I hibernate over the winter and create art during the summer.”

Despite the success Peter has enjoyed since his Royal College Final Show when prestigious Agnews and Son of Old Bond Street signed him, as well as his international reputation, one of his more recent projects revealed a more down to earth approach.

“In an exhibition at the trendy Pitfield Winchester I wanted to make affordable pieces so produced hand painted tea cups and saucers, plates and tea towels - small, one off things. The exhibition is now finished but my products are still in residence.”

Describing his own work as, “humorous and lively with some dark elements,” Peter, who is also Associate Editor of the new Journal of Illustration, is resolute in his approach, recognising the negativity produced by procrastination.

“I hate sitting on things. If I have an idea I try to keep it alive as possible. Over- thinking makes it go stale. It will usually take me two weeks to finish a print.”

Throughout our talk I have been equally fascinated by the techniques employed by this artist and entertained by his northern humour. On the one hand he appears not to take himself too seriously yet his achievements and reputation belie that theory. And, just to confirm his dedication, Peter sums up his artistic approach: “I want to be individual, to stay true to myself, not follow a pre-conceived style or fashion. When people see one of my prints they should recognise it is mine, a one of a kind.”

Admirers of Peter’s work will surely concur. Indeed, both his celebrated following and less well known clientele are, no doubt, delighted to have invested in works of art that are as distinctive as they are unique.