A former joiner has won the Cravens Art Prize with a picture inspired by Celebrity Big Brother. Self-taught artist Peter Hallam speaks to Tamzin Lewis.
It is safe to say that very few artists make their studios from shipping containers. For Peter Hallam needs must. He bought a container in Newcastle for £700, had it transported to Berwick and installed it near his flat.
He knocked the roof out and laid glass over the top to allow light in. It made a pretty decent space, however he hadn't taken ventilation into account.
"The fumes from the paint were such a problem that I nearly killed myself. I was sick for about a week with lung poisoning. After that I had to put some ventilation into the container," he says.
Peter, 49, is the sort of struggling artist who paints what he wants to paint even though he barely makes a living. Despite not being favoured by commercial galleries, he continues developing his own surrealist style, rather than producing easily saleable work.
It is in keeping with the philanthropic and egalitarian nature of the Cravens Art Prize that the top award of £1,000 should go to Peter. His painting Don't Feed the Animals was in response to The People Show's reinvention this year as The Human Zoo.
Don't Feed the Animals beat 375 other works of art, including many by professional artists, to win the annual competition. The Human Zoo was open to painters, sculptors, photographers and multimedia artists.
To say Peter is pleased would be an understatement. He says: "I have been floating on air since I heard that I had won the competition. I can't concentrate on painting, I am so happy."
The idea for the picture came from watching housemates including politician George Galloway, pop singer Pete Burns and glamour model Jodie Marsh in Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother. Peter painted from his imagination rather than using a life model.
Peter says: "The title Human Zoo inspired me, and so did Celebrity Big Brother. Some of the people in the house were like animals. I did a few sketches and the picture came from that. The big lips maybe came from Pete Burns."
Dad-of-two Peter, from Nottingham, is a self-taught artist who moved to Berwick three years ago. He says: "I wanted to go to art college when I left school but I come from quite a poor family. I am quite badly dyslexic and I didn't have much confidence. I trained as a joiner, but 10 years ago I decided that I had to paint. I wanted to take it seriously. I find art takes a lot of thinking time and I gave up joinery."
He adds: "Being in Berwick has been brilliant as it took me away from the things I know in Nottingham and it allowed me to do something that I always wanted to do. I paint every day."
Peter has shown work in galleries in Nottingham and Scotland and had a picture selected by the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh for an exhibition last year. Selling can be a struggle. He says: "I do landscape but I don't want to paint pretty pictures. I like doing surreal paintings, however people don't buy faces that often."
His favourite artists are British 20th century painters Francis Bacon, who is known for his abstract distorted human forms, and LS Lowrie, who painted bleak industrial landscapes.
Peter says: "Bacon has a connection with human suffering and anxiety of life. The way he paints people is quite cruel, but it is in some respects true. I like Lowrie for the atmosphere he creates rather than for his little people."
Peter is planning on spending time in Edinburgh, Newcastle and London to further his painting career. "I would like to be noticed and I hope that winning this award will help me. I want to be famous!"
And what will he do with the container? "I'm going to take it with me. People don't seem to like it much, that's the only problem. They say it is ugly. But it's good for me. Wherever I go the container has to go with me."
An award ceremony is to be held tonight (Thursday) at the University Gallery. Retired art teacher Nicholas Holmes, of Togston, Northumberland, wins second prize of £500, with Man and Boy (Double Self Portrait). The co-winners of the photography prize are Emma Dunn, a Philosophy student at Newcastle University, who shot Movies £1/£2, and professional photographer Jacky Longstaff, who teaches at Newcastle College, with an untitled photo. The student prize is awarded to Alex Bland of Slaley, Northumberland, for her experimental film A Lonely Heart.
* The Human Zoo is at the University Gallery, Northumbria University from February 24 to March 31.