An unshaven man with flyaway hair and hands covered in black charcoal gazes up at an enormous drawing of a horse. A wall opposite is dotted with faint sketch markings, almost as if he got bored and decided to start somewhere else.
Pete Codling has been described as an English eccentric – and it’s not hard to see why.
After finishing a 40ft sculpture in Glan Y Nant in Wales at the end of last year, the critically-acclaimed artist is re-visiting his roots in Portsmouth at the university’s SPACE gallery in Winston Churchill Avenue.
The building, which has played host to artists and designers over 60 years, is being knocked down in November and Pete asked to complete a drawing on its walls before it disappeared.
He says: ‘I think it’s sad to see an old friend go. Particularly in Portsmouth there is almost a lack of strong cultural identity that isn’t associated with the military and the literacy. You get places like SPACE that are steeped in history.’
After spending the past six months studying in Cyprus and Italy, he was keen to return to a much more basic level.
The 41-year-old explains: ‘I was steeped in a lot of the Mediterranean mythology, anything religious. I’ve been in more churches and cathedrals than you can imagine.
‘My particular sort of angle was that although skills are incredibly important in the contemporary art world, we can all have ideas, you just can’t all draw the drawing if you like.
‘My discussion within the art world is very much about bringing back traditional skills in a contemporary context and meaning.’
Pete concludes: ‘In terms of indulging my mid-life crisis, I’m just going back to basics with charcoal and drawing and trying to find something to say as an artist in the contemporary world.’
After attending art school in Portsmouth from 1986 to 1994, Pete still regards the city as his home.
He says: ‘I’m living in Southsea at the moment and I grew up here and went to school at St Edmund’s down the road, then straight to the art school.
‘Portsmouth is a connection to me both in school friends, college friends, family and extended friends from outside as well, so it’s a hometown.’
Pete adds: ‘When I was in secondary school, art school was the place where all the bad kids went who couldn’t do the academic stuff.
‘I wanted to be a civil engineer or a scientist, but I went to art school at 16, straight out of my school uniform.
‘I sort of had my mind blown away by the whole idea that ideas are there to be pushed and explored.
‘It felt very natural and the more I did it the happier I felt with it. I explored what art could be and just sort of opened up from there.’
Pete studied at Portsmouth College of Art and the University of Portsmouth, where he gained a Masters degree in Art Design and Media, and just couldn’t stay away from the city’s art education system.
He explains: ‘I went through quite a unique time in Portsmouth education. Things slowly swallowed one another along the process, but during that period there was a transition in the courses.
‘They were melting pots, because other courses were closing down and you got thrown together with jewellery makers and architects and graphic designers and fine art sculptors or painters.
‘They were really amazing times and that kind of thing has gone now.’
After graduating and completing his first commission in Gosport with the Hampshire Sculpture Trust, Pete’s artwork has gone on to be seen across the area and beyond.
Projects have included the One Million Pebble project on Southsea beach, the Wymering Wall near Queen Alexandra Hospital, the Arundel Street Precinct design in the city centre and sculptures at the John Pounds Community Centre in Queen Street, Portsea.