Twickenham artist Pete Fletcher is a great example that the path to success is not always a straight line.
These days, he’s a successful painter and sculptor. Art-lovers flock to see his work, buyers are delighted to have his creations in their homes, and he’s making a living from doing what he loves.
It wasn’t always so. Pete admits that there were some troubled times along the way.
“I survived a life-threatening car crash, when I was hit by a drink-driver. My car went through a brick wall and a line of trees.
“Some years’ later, I lost two of my fingers, in an accident whilst working on my car engine, and couldn't use my right hand for nearly a year. I learned to draw and paint left-handed.
[Pete later had surgery to restore his fingers,]
“After an incident at work, I experienced PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. At that time, there was no proper trauma support for drivers who had experienced a 'person under a train' and
although I went back to work, some time later, I became homeless after losing my job through PTSD.
The next twist of fate led to Pete starting to realise that his lifelong love of art might help.
“By complete chance, I bumped into an artist friend I'd worked with, years’ before. She saw my paintings and suggested I take an access course in art and design.”
The paintings in question had come about as Pete found his ‘hobby’ therapeutic. He didn’t imagine that they would pave the way to his dream career.
Pete, 57, was born in Forest Gate, East London, and came from a “solid working class family”, where the aim was to get a steady job – and that, as Pete recalls, did not mean becoming an artist!
“I was given a paintbox when I was five years old, and I still have it. I was attracted to the bright colours, and I always enjoyed painting and drawing, but the thinking then was that being an artist was not a proper job.
“I got a grade 1 CSE in art. Both art and music were my saviours, as a teenager.”
Pete’s road to the prescribed steady job saw him starting as a 16-year-old apprentice on the London Underground, completing his training at 18.
“I became a signalman – and hated it. I left to study drama and theatre. My dream then was to go into acting. But, after college and then nine years with the NHS, I found myself going back on the underground, first as a guard then as a driver.”
At first, he loved the camaraderie, but changes to work practices meant that he was more isolated.
“It wasn’t a hard decision, to leave.”
With his access course going well, at Richmond Adult Community College, Pete decided to study at a higher level, and did an extended pathway course to get him to university.
“None of my family had ever gained a degree, so I ended up doing something I'd really never thought about. I’m now a graduate of University of the Arts London (UAL), Wimbledon College of Art, and have a BA Hons degree in Fine Art: Sculpture.
“I never expected to be doing any of this kind of creative work. I keep thinking how strange this life is: doing something I love. I was often told by certain people: ‘You won't do that!’ as if I had no right.
“Well, I’ve always been a rebel, and – because of them – I thought: ‘Why not?’”
Pete is enjoying the fruits of his labours, these days, with some successful exhibitions under his belt, private commissions coming his way, and regular sales. More than that, he is loving it.
“My university training gave constant encouragement to experiment and challenge myself to try new things and explore. I have taken this to heart, which hopefully explains the wide variety of styles in my portfolio.
“Nature features heavily in my work, often from a perspective I didn’t expect. Art for me is an immersive experience.
“The experience of putting paint onto canvas is very satisfying. My process works from memory, and forms simply develop. The memory part is like fitting in as much light and as many images to my eyes as possible. I often take photos, but rarely use them. What is important is I capture a feeling that a memory gave me.”
Pete is delighted that his new show is hosted by his local Labour Party:
“I’m a lifelong Labour supporter. I’ve felt that Labour have always spoken for me. Most importantly, I thank them for the NHS - without it, I wouldn't be here now.”
“Further than Everywhere”, Pete Fletcher’s latest exhibition, runs at the Twickenham Constituency Labour Party office, 77 Waldegrave Road, Teddington, TW11 8LA [5mins’ walk from Teddington rail station, and on 33 bus route]