Caught by the River

Art of his head 

26th February 2019

A few words on Pete Fowler’s ‘Decades of Lead’, newly published by Unbound, from Robin Turner:

Pete Fowler is a true friend of the river. 

One year at Port Eliot Festival (our collective second home), he sat by the banks of the estuary in glorious high summer Sunday sun, painting the view in oils on a series of boards he’d brought with him. He was lost in the moment – well, more a series of moments really – caught in a mood that placed him somewhere between hideously hungover and heroically psychedelic. He was taking commissions. The payment scheme was what could only be described as ‘loose’. 

I bought a painting off him. It sits on my mantlepiece at home and it’s one of my proudest possessions. I paid him two pints of rum and coke and one of foaming lager for it, but it’s priceless artwork as far as I’m concerned – a snapshot of a perfect day in ultra-vivid cartoonish brushstrokes – simple, reflective and inviting. Only…there’s a spaceship floating over the neighbouring hillside. It’s hovering there, looking back at at us revellers, watching keenly and closely, intelligences greater than man’s (certainly at that point on the last day of a 4-day festival session). I’m still not sure I did see that alien craft that day. I’m damn sure Pete did though. 

Pete Fowler is a one of a kind. That might sound like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but I think it’s true – his vision is utterly unique – a kind of interzone between the mundane and myriad parallel universes peopled by freakish, anthropomorphised creatures, by glittering pirate ships and synthesisers that tower like Cold War mainframes. It’s a vision that takes the background detail of early Judge Dredd strips and magnifies it into the main feature; a document of a festival where the brown acid was actually the least hallucinogenic thing on offer. 

Unbound have produced a sumptuous, beautiful and deeply immersive collection of Pete’s notebooks from the last three decades (Decades of Lead: 30 Years of Monsters, Sneakers & Sketches). If you’re a fan of Pete’s work, of the Super Furries artwork or of his regular magazine work for Prog – or even of the gorgeously evocative Caught by the River series Piscator & Fitch, it’s the perfect companion piece. And if you’re someone who sits on the riverbanks and blinks their eyes in the knowledge that they’ve just witnessed first contact after a couple of pints of spirit and mixers, this is destined to become a well-thumbed and highly essential guidebook to the supernormal. 

‘Decades of Lead’ is out now and available here in the Caught by the River shop, priced £25.00.