Meet the Amazing Artist from Hull Whose Work Has Been Compared to Antoni Gaudí's
Living North meet Hull's answer to Gaudí, whose self-built house in Greece is just one of many pieces of art on display in a new retrospective multimedia exhibition, which started with a series of paintings of Spurn Point
Born in the port city in 1946, Peter studied at Hull Grammar School and while living in Keyingham Marsh he worked for the city council, before joining United Towing working on the tug Serviceman, but he’s always had a creative streak. ‘When I was 10, there was a figure of a cowboy that I used to draw endlessly,’ he recalls, and he’s been interested in art for as long as he can remember.
He completed a pre-diploma course at Liverpool Art College and trained as a teacher in Hull, then worked at schools in Norton, Otley and Settle – the latter is where he met his wife Linda in the 90s. ‘I was head of art in the art department at a rural comprehensive school and Linda got a job in the department,’ Peter reminisces fondly.
‘We worked together for seven years, and then Peter retired early aged 51,’ Linda adds. ‘He still had a lot of energy. While he was working he continued to produce his own art but after retiring he had a lot more time on his hands and that’s when there was an explosion of creativity, because he spent the days I was out working creating something in one form or another.’
Read More: Meet the Yorkshire Wildlife Artist Whose Work with Baby Stoats Found in his Garden Has Gone Viral This Month
After Peter retired they travelled to Eastern Europe and also drove south from Athens to Kalamata in the Southern Peloponnese where, in 2003, they bought an olive grove from an English couple. That’s where Peter and Linda built their unique mosaic house. ‘I needed something to keep me happy. There was no grand plan; it was largely accidental really,’ says Peter.
They lived in a tent and then built a wooden bungalow so they had somewhere to stay while they were working on the project. They even camped in the house before it was finished because so many people were showing an interest and wanted to visit – something they still encourage today.
The house, which is covered with mosaics and sculptures, is an installation which Peter has added to over the years, but it all started with a fountain which the house was built around. The couple spent six years on the main house and have continued to work on it ever since. ‘In one of the pieces of publicity it was described as a mansion, but it isn’t,’ Linda clarifies. ‘It’s just unusual. It looks bigger than it is because it’s built against a hillside. It genuinely evolved. When we first started, I think the locals thought we were building a church. People would stop on the opposite side of the valley and we would hear the word “ekklēsia”, meaning church. It only later became clear later that it was a house, but it does share some of the shapes associated with Antoni Gaudí.’
Read More: North Shields Artist on his Coastal-Inspired Art, Attention from Sam Fender and his Pride in the Region
But Peter is simply inspired by his surroundings, his thoughts, and his creative drive, not by any particular artist, as he explains: ‘It was never meant to be a tribute to Gaudí, but everything has to be something and you can’t escape comparisons. It’s true up to a point, but mostly it was intuitive stuff. We never deliberately try to emulate another practitioner.’
Peter’s creativity merges into moving images too. He made various films while living in the UK, and carried this skill over to Greece. He worked with Greek friends and made new ones including Ismini Konstantopoulou, a well-known name in the Kalamata theatre scene. Her son Stathis Giftakis, principal of the Odeio (Kalamata’s music school), supported the films and wrote and arranged soundtrack music.
‘We met Greeks who take their culture very seriously, and they’re very enthusiastic, so it was a pleasure to make films with them,’ says Peter. ‘It meant we could celebrate the landscape. It spoke to me – not quite in the way that Spurn Point does – but it’s certainly what drew us to the area.’
‘Hull and Back will tell the story of the house
and plenty more of Peter’s work, which his son
Sam drove for four days to collect from
Kalamata and bring over to Hull’
Hull and Back will tell the story of the house and plenty more of Peter’s work, which his son Sam drove for four days to collect from Kalamata and bring over to Hull. But it’s a selection of Peter’s paintings of Spurn Point that inspired this exhibition. Peter has been visiting the tidal island since he was 12, and keeps going back. Over the last five years he has been working on large paintings of Spurn, many of which have been dotted around his house in Greece.
‘I needed to find a gallery that would be willing to hang them once they were complete,’ Peter says. ‘[The director of the University of Hull Art Collection] John Bernasconi said yes, but then when he saw a book of my work, he said “why don’t you do a retrospective exhibition?” And that changed the spin of the whole thing.’
This is the gallery’s first exhibition of 2023 and will feature a variety of pieces, from Spurn Point to Sheffield in the Blitz and etchings which date back to the 1960s, as well as large-scale photographs of the house and a cardboard model of it. Among these items (most of which are for sale) is a maquette of a sculpture of Icarus, originally made as a commission for Central High School in Lancaster, and several books including retrospectives and novels. ‘The gallery is looking great and we’re really delighted with the way it’s turned out,’ Linda adds.
Read More: Meet the Stonemason at York Minister Who Created a Queen Elizabeth II Statue
Despite his achievements and the countless pieces of art he has created over the years, Peter, now 76, remains modest. ‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s all just a job,’ he says. ‘I don’t see myself as an artist. I’m just a bloke that does jobs. My father was a bricklayer and he did jobs. When a job was finished, he went on to another one – that’s what I do really.’
Linda disagrees: ‘I don’t think Peter is the best judge of whether he’s an artist or not. I think that people who come and see his work would disagree with the statement he’s just made. Peter has this feeling that he’s just got to do it, and he finds it very difficult to put into words why.’ He says the reason behind his creativity is a ‘mystery’ – but he’s happy with that. What’s clear is that this exhibition is a celebration of Peter’s work, or as Linda says, his ‘swan song’.
Hull and Back will take place in the University of Hull Gallery in the Brynmor Jones Library until 12th March. Admission is free. Find more of Peter’s artwork at peterhuby.com.
Have you got a favourite piece?
Peter: My favourite piece is always the thing I’m making at the time.
An item you couldn’t live without?
Linda: Isn’t that lovely?! I suppose I should say Peter now.
Favourite place to walk in Yorkshire.
Linda: Dentdale. It’s a very beautiful valley.
A book or author you recommend to our readers.
Peter: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. He’s a great writer.
Linda: I taught English for a long time. I like lots of writers. I read Thomas Hardy’s work for a long time, and Jane Austen. When you’ve taught so much English, many of their pieces of work have a deeper meaning. When you’ve read something more than once, you probably see things in it that people reading them once don’t. I love Shakespeare too!
Advice for aspiring artists, especially those from Yorkshire?
Linda: If you’ve got an idea, just do it. Don’t be limited by what you think might be your limitations.