As usual, Peter’s subjects stare at their smartphones, the glow of the screens lighting up their faces. But rather than taking a dark approach to this disturbing addiction, as in his previous works, these new paintings seem brighter, kinder and hopeful. His subjects are smiling, unlike previous portraits where people often look lost or even sad.
“Our phones are never far from us now, so seeing people connected 24/7 is so common that we don’t give it a second glance,” Peter told Creative Boom. “I have always been fascinated by situational paintings and what they tell us about the period in which they were painted. I capture life in Manchester in the 2020s in the same way that Edward Hopper captured New York life in the 1920s.”
With his latest works, there is more backdrop this time: a focus on architecture and street furniture, whereas before there were only simple backgrounds, perhaps for further highlight the state of our device addiction. It’s a fresh take on a theme Peter felt was relevant, given the past two years: “Manchester has changed enormously over the last decade,” he adds. “It’s such a vibrant and ever-changing city and there are so many amazing stories to put into my paintings. There has been a gentrification of certain neighborhoods like the North Quarter, which has long been known for its creativity and art from the street, and so I keep going back to it for a lot of my cityscapes.”
Since confinement, Peter has been painting these scenes to include positive messages. “It was just good,” he explains. These positive messages come in the form of posters or billboard campaigns from this depressing time, reminding us to stay strong and take care of each other. In one work we instantly recognize Mark Titcher’s Please Believe These Days Will Pass, perhaps on Edge Street in the North Quarter, a crumbling building in the backdrop. In another, we notice an encouraging campaign from the Feel Good Club and Manchester’s Finest to tackle last year’s Blue Monday. It’s quite a contrast to Peter’s usual stuff, where we see his characters looking tired or maybe overwhelmed with scrolling doom and constantly online. Now, it looks like its protagonists are happy, relishing in the benefits of technology and our ability to stay connected as the whole world has been told to stay home.
“Manchester was probably similar to many cities in the UK where the streets were eerily quiet for months on end,” says Peter. “But then, in true Manc style, as life started to get better last summer for a short while, street artists and designers came out and cheered us on with brilliantly uplifting flying posters. As I saw them on Thomas Street in the North Quarter, I knew I just had to paint a picture of them, as they represented a positive side to life in lockdown, lifting our spirits on a rainy day in Manchester. I think these are beautiful examples of how humanity and creativity can help us get through the dark days.”
But it’s not just this comforting angle that Peter takes in his latest paintings; we also see a hint of what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic and how Manchester reacted to these huge world events. Like the murder of George Floyd and local artist Akse’s memorable artwork that popped up in Stevenson Square, which won much love from Manchester, so many flowers and tributes laid alongside.
As well as other clues to what was going on in the world, many of Peter’s paintings feature iconic street art around Manchester: the famous Invader on Faraday Street by mysterious artist Space Invader or Hammo’s classic mural on the shutters of Fresh Bites on the corner of Oldham. Street and Hilton Street. It’s an incredibly warm hug from someone who clearly loves Manchester as much as we do and a reminder that even on the darkest of days it’s comforting to know that familiar places will always remain. Unless, of course, you’re familiar with the dystopian works of James Chadderton, then that’s another story.
If you’re a fan of Peter’s latest paintings in his Urban Realist series, you’ll be happy to know that he sells A3 fine art giclee prints in his online store. Printed on 310gsm museum quality archival paper and in a limited edition of 250 copies, each is numbered, titled, signed and stamped and costs £80 plus £6 UK postage and packing United.