Andy Pea – whose work is in increasing demand in UK fishing ports – became a renowned maritime artist by avoiding the sea. Brian W Lavery finds out more
If you want to know the colour scheme of Andy Pea’s latest work, simply catch him before he takes his overalls off. The spattering from his giant artworks makes him a walking palette.
I caught up with Andy Pea (pronounced Pee-Yuh; he’s of Italian descent) when he took a break from his latest work in progress, Racing The Wind – a mural that is attracting a lot of attention in Grimsby, where it has become a landmark even before it is officially finished.
Andy said: “It seems ex-fishermen can’t pass by without saying something. It’s really good to see the community taking an interest in the art.
“In fact, it was talking with one the old boys that gave me the title for the piece.”
Over the past few weeks, Andy has become a regular sight near the dock. “I’ve become a bit of a fixture myself now,” he said.
The artwork got underway in late June, and was due to be completed by the end of July – but it’s running a bit longer.
Andy explained: “We have been given an extra bit of wall space to extend the mural. And there’s a real buzz about it now. Folk are asking where the next one will be.”
The mural is part of a project called Paint the Town Proud, which has plans for large-scale indoor and outdoor community murals in the town centre.
Creative Start CIC set up the programme – which is funded by the Arts Council, England – in collaboration with The Culture House, Grimsby. Paint the Town Proud will provide opportunities for local talent to work alongside national artists.
Andy Pea’s mural, the first in the series, is on the gable end of the Little Oaks children’s nursery on the town’s Commercial Road.
Andy has also created murals in Spain and Mexico – not all of them maritime. But in recent years, the majority of his work has been about the fishing industry and the communities where it once thrived.
Andy has designed or been involved in all the fishing-themed murals in his native Hull. These started with the Headscarf Revolutionaries mural, which was brought about by the BBC programme The One Show and created by acclaimed Northern Irish mural artist Mark Ervine.
“Mark and I became good friends. I worked with him on the Headscarf Revolutionaries mural and then went on to design and work on others across Hull – mainly in the Hessle Road area,” explained Andy.
But there is something of an irony in Andy becoming one of the country’s leading maritime artists. For unlike many who romanticise the ocean waves, Andy did not run away to sea as a lad – in fact, he ran away from it after a few weeks.
Andy recalled: “I was born on Hessle Road. My old fella was a boilermaker on the dock, and I used to go in with him most Saturdays. So I have always loved ships, fishing boats and the sea.
“My dad used to bring the blueprint drawings of ships home, and I would be fascinated by them. I think that’s really what put me on the path to this kind of art.
“When I was 16, I decided to join the Royal Navy, but I found out very soon afterwards that the sailor’s life was not for me. There was one of the trainers there that I thought had it in for me, so I left after a few weeks. Maybe I should’ve given it longer.
“But if you’re a Hull lad, like me, it is kind of in your blood, and in spite of my disappointing naval career, I still love the sea.
“In fact, I later went to art school by the sea.” But his journey there was a long and roundabout one. After his short sojourn with the Senior Service, he drifted from one casual job to another.
“My father died when I was 12, so I felt compelled to work and bring something into the house,” he told me.
“When I left school, I did not even bother to check if I had passed anything. Maybe I didn’t, or maybe I did. I never went back to check. I was keen to be away, if I’m honest – but I was always good at art, and drew whenever I could.
“I found out later in life that I was dyslexic, and was diagnosed with ADHD – but back then this was not recognised as much as today.”
Andy continued: “I found myself in London and landed a fashion designer’s role at a firm called Hyper, Hyper. My art skills came in handy and we created all sorts of stuff fashion-wise. I didn’t really know what I was doing – I just learned as I went.
“Whenever folk asked me if I could do something, I’d always say yes, and find out when I got there.”
A friend asked Andy if he wanted to join him in Spain to ‘decorate some rich folks’ houses’. “Like always, I just said yes, and found out when I got there that I was actually quite good at it. I painted some murals in some very posh villas.
“There was one I remember had artwork by Picasso on the bottom of his swimming pool, so we are talking that rich.”
By the mid-1990s, Andy found himself working as importer and exporter of furniture in India. Eventually, he returned to Hull, and decided to go to art school in 2004, aged 42, paying for it with money he had saved over the years.
“I had places at a few art schools but decided on Scarborough – it is in a wonderful setting near the sea.”
He spent the following years building a reputation in community art projects, and in 2015 got some major mural work when Hull was given its four-year stint as UK City of Culture. He then went on to do the work on Hessle Road for which he is widely known.
Another happy accident saw him establish himself further as an international artist. “A nephew I hadn’t seen in 20 years was living in Mexico City and got in touch to reconnect – and at the same time there was an open call for artists for a festival there.”
Andy was invited to create murals as part of the Akumal Arts Festival in Mexico City. “I was tired after all the work from City of Culture in Hull in 2015 and beyond, and this seemed like a great opportunity. A change as good as a rest, as they say.”
He ended up not only reconnecting with his nephew but also launching his mural painting career on the international stage. He continues to contribute to the annual Mexican arts festival, and plays an ongoing part in providing local arts education there.
It may not have been plain sailing getting there, but Andy Pea has now established himself as one of the leading artists of his genre.
This story was taken from the archives of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.