A New Image?
PUBLISHED: 12:11 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:16 20 February 2013
In our July issue we talk to one of the creators of Spitting Image, Peter Fluck, who has now settled as an artist in Cadgwith in Cornwall.
A New Image?
Deborah Harris talks to Spitting Image's Peter Fluck who has now settled as an artist in Cornwall
High on a cliff in a small village called Cadgwith, Peter Fluck is admiring spectacular views to the sea, contemplating this idyllic spot and thinking up a new piece of artwork. But when did the creator of the hit TV series Spitting Image leave London and why did he settle in Cornwall? "My wife first brought me here in 1960 - we visited for years. We finally moved here in 1999," Peter says. He loves Cornwall, which he believes is far from the impoverished periphery at the end of the British Isles it was once considered. "It has the Tate, the Eden Project and great restaurants. More people are moving here from London - and on their lunch breaks they go surfing." I ask Peter if he ever takes the plunge. "No - and I don't intend to try," he laughs.
The creation of Spitting Image in 80s' London was a defining time for Peter and for the public, who continue to identify him with the series, but how does he feel about that - and how do locals react to him? "People know that I created Spitting Image, but I don't like to present myself as a celebrity, which they know, so they don't really say anything."
Old art college buddies, Peter and Roger Law combined their talents to create the iconic programme, which turned out to be an overnight success. "It was going to cost a lot of money to make, so Central Television hyped it beyond all belief. Suddenly we were famous. The audience never went below six million. It was wonderful to work on, but it was very hard work; now I can be selfish and work at my own pace," he says.
Not only were millions of us glued to the television every Sunday evening but even the stars of the show loved it - to the point where they were desperate to be featured. "I don't think anyone was upset about being on it. In fact, it was the opposite. I remember Jeffrey Archer sent some photographs of himself, so we could hasten the manufacture of the puppet. There was also a VHS of the show available at Westminster; it got into the establishment."
But aside from the innovative puppets - and the kudos the show attained - what was one of the most enjoyable aspects for its creator? "We had the chance to educate other people - we were a sort of television-financed art school. Roger and I ran a workshop that never had less then 50 people. We took people on at a very young age who we thought were talented, maybe as draughtsmen or sculptors. And they got their education in our workshop, which was very exciting. When I look at the credits for some of the comedy shows, such as The Royle Family, League of Gentleman, Harry Enfield, Have I got News for You? and many more, I usually spot someone who worked for us," Peter says with glee.
It was a long time ago now, but moving to Cornwall didn't mean leaving everything behind. "I still like things that move. Making puppets for Spitting Image made me realise how objects can be brought to life. So, when we stopped working on the show my interest turned to people such as Alexander Calder, most famously known for inventing the 'mobile' - and that's my main focus. I usually make them from metal or fibreglass. "People pay more attention to something if it moves. They want to wait and see what happens; they find it interesting or therapeutic. And that is the main reason why I create them," he says. The ones he is working on at the moment are smaller then his previous works. "They are more to human scale this time. I am trying to make them more personal than public."
So what's he working on right now? "Home decorating," Peter laughs. But seriously? "As it goes, I'm concentrating on ceramics at the moment. They're like large African water jars, about two-foot tall, with a hole in the side to create an acoustic drum; I fire them in the ground with wood and they come out in wonderful colours. I'm hoping that musicians will use the drums," he adds enthusiastically.
So, is Cadgwith the inspiration for all of Peter's work? "The place has a strong identity, but it doesn't necessarily influence me. Everything I come in contact with has an impact of sorts - Cambridge, London, the TV, the radio... But, saying that, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It's a small, bustling fishing village, with the beach at the centre. I can sit and watch a continually changing theatre: boats, trucks, fluorescent floats, colourful flags, excited dogs... all the way to the fishermen."
Peter, it seems, can be consumed by his work, and as an artist he doesn't have the luxury of taking weekends off, but he does like to mix with the locals. "I go to pub quizzes sometimes," he says.
So, what's next for him? "I work on and off with
Dr Tony Myatt, Director of the Music Research Centre, University of York. It's an ongoing relationship - my contribution is movement and lighting, computer software and sound. The first collaboration was at the Tate, St Ives. That was a mobile I made, which used chaos theory to inform the moment. We're currently working on a three-dimensional projection screen - imagine projecting onto a transparent cube, rather than onto a flat surface. It's a work-in-progress."
So where can the public view his work? "I show every so often in local galleries - but that means concentrating on six months of hard work for an exhibition, and I prefer to take it a bit slower now," says Peter. But he does invite people to visit him at his home studio; all they have to do is contact him through his website: www.peterfluck.co.uk