How Pete Codling's artwork is part of Portsmouth
‘I work as a full-time artist. I live in Castle Road so there is no getting away from the city. I always say art is a lifestyle,’ adds Pete.
Born in Zambia in 1969 to ‘a very Irish mother and very English father’, who worked as an engineer, Pete admits he wasn’t born into an artistic family.
‘I studied at St Edmund’s School before going to Portsmouth College of Art and Design,’ explains Pete.
Afterwards he moved to East London Polytechnic to complete his BA Fine Art in Sculpture, then Wimbledon School of Art to study Site Specific Sculpture and finally back to The University of Portsmouth to complete his Masters Degree in 1994.
‘As much as I try to escape Portsmouth, I always keep coming back,’ says Pete, smiling.
And lucky for the city, the renowned artist does not get the chance to get away.
From work at the John Pounds Centre to St Edmund’s School gates, and from the Soup of Souls charcoal drawings which were draped in Portsmouth Cathedral to his One Million Pebbles project, Pete isn’t wrong when he says his artwork is ingrained in the city.
‘I am probably best known for the One Million Pebbles project in Southsea. I am still involved in the Facebook group where people have continued to find them,’ says Pete.
The One Million Pebbles project is a ‘sculpture’ made from 25 tons of clay between 1994-2011. The ceramic pebbles, which were individually number stamped, were made with the public and thrown into the sea on Southsea beach.
Although he trained as a sculptor and designer – namely using ceramic, steel, concrete, bronze, resin, wood and stone carving – in the past 10 years Pete has branched out into charcoal drawings.
‘New Drawings, Naivety Drawings and Soup of Souls were massive charcoal drawings,’ explains Pete.
‘The Soup of Souls are actually backstage at the New Theatre Royal, but with the pandemic nothing has been done with them sadly.
‘Working in solitude is not particularly a novelty for me. I spend most of my time working in my studio so my thoughts go out to people who normally work as part of a team.’
But 2020 hasn’t been all bad for Pete, who kicked off his 50th year by winning the Best Visual Artist and Special Achievement Award at The News’ Guide Awards in January.
He says: ‘Receiving those awards came as such a shock. It’s quite awkward as an artist because everything you do is up to interpretation.
‘But it’s nice to be recognised for it though and I reached 50 when it happened. Twenty five years of my life has been spent working in the city.’
And Pete had plenty to do when lockdown hit in March.
‘Excitingly, I have been working on a commission of Byzantine mosaics, celebrating the life of St Jerome, for the Catholic Church which is due to be shown in Portsmouth Cathedral in September. Then it will be travelling to Italy and back to Westminster.’
He laughs and says: ‘It’s quite a big deal. It has been blessed by a cardinal so I better get it finished.’
Another artwork Pete has been working on is Ye Plagues of Southsea, which is being shown as part of an exhibition at Portsmouth City Museum.
The original painting which inspired Pete centred around the Battle of Southsea in 1874, which saw a huge crowd of men assemble on Southsea Common to fight for the right of free access to the common for ordinary people, who were barred by a barrier which kept them away from the land.
The long-term significance of the Battle of Southsea has kept the common sacred. The citizens of Southsea felt it was a battle for the right of free access to the common and the right of public way across the beach.
Pete explains: ‘When asked to create a piece for the Portsmouth Revisited exhibition at the museum, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. It’s a transcription of the old painting of the Battle of Southsea by WH Dugan but using new characters.
‘I have been working remotely on a digital photograph, slightly out of focus, of the original painting to try and depict a representation and translation of the old to the new.’
In the painting, which is on display at the city museum, you will see figures such as Dominic Cummings and protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement and even references to the woman attacked on the common a couple of months ago.
‘Like all good art, hopefully this will act as a commentary of this year,’ adds Pete.
And his most recent project, which launched last week, is one he is very excited about.
Pete says: ‘It’s a portrait of the city created by drawings of hundreds of thousands of people on canvases the size of sails from the Mary Rose and HMS Victory.
‘I want to illustrate the actual number of people crammed on board these ships by drawing a contemporary “Crowd” using portraits from the local community, the Dockyard staff and visitors and real crew from the Royal Navy, old and new.’
The artworks which will be created with the financial help of a crowdfunder – namely called Crowd – will be worked on during the course of several years with Pete as Artist in Residence, hosted by The Royal Portsmouth Dockyard Trust.
‘It’s going to be a fun project but for the next few years, you will be able to find me at the dockyard’s south block,’ adds Pete, laughing.
‘It can be quite intimidating having a large canvas in front of you. But once you begin, you’re away. It’s about having the confidence to start.’
And as part of the motley crew in Crowd, Pete wants to feature people of the local community. He says: ‘The historic dockyard is full of inspiration with great spaces to work and interesting people to meet but I will also be working with the local community to be inspired by your nautical stories.
‘The Crowd drawings we make together represent the actual number of crew on the ships and become a contemporary portrait of the city's population.’
If you would like to be involved in this project – or even have your portrait included on the artwork – email Pete at [email protected].