Many of the artists at the Celebration of Fine Art discovered their creative inclinations while they were young children. But who says there’s an age requirement to become an artist? Take, for example, Pete Tillack. Today he is an oil and acrylic painter renowned for his highly recognizable style, but he didn’t begin to explore art until he was already an adult, and just off the heels of a surfing adventure that took him to all corners of the world.

“I traveled for a long time and had no idea I was even an artist,” Pete says. “I was building trade show booths for a company that did art on the weekends and they invited me to come along.”

And while some might assume it was then he picked up a paintbrush and discovered his immediate talent, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Pete says, quite seriously, he was a terrible artist at first, but his colleagues gave him a number of tips to help move his progress forward. That, coupled with his desire to create, is what drove him to continuously improve.

“I was always looking for my true self like most of us do,” Pete says. “I know I have a big personality and wanted to portray that in my artwork and try and find myself. It was my second year that I realized my tropical work wasn’t really touching base.”

And so with that, Pete began to divert from his tropical surf style and delved deeper into himself to bring forth the voice we see in his work today. Now his works are a style all his own and combine symbolic objects like furniture, graffiti and iconic animals in unique settings.

“They say you’ve gotta become naked in order to find yourself –– not necessarily painted naked,” Pete laughs. “But I definitely threw myself on the canvas.”

Pete’s search for meaning didn’t end once he developed his signature style. Rather, the process is ongoing and fueled by conversations with people he meets in everyday life, including at the Celebration of Fine Art.

“When I have people come into the shows to see my work, we end up getting into these deep conversations about life and what they feel or what they do in their life,” Pete says. “I overthink everything, so I go home and start making notes and every now and then I get a new piece from something like that. They might see something that I might not have noticed in my own self but it was in them.”

To Pete, his art isn’t about him. It’s about people and portraying the feelings everyone experiences in a different way.

One of the themes in particular that Pete longed for, and others do as well, is the feeling of home. And after all his travels and being away from his native Australia, Pete worked through his feelings on the differences between a house and a home –– and how often that comes down to making the space your own with furniture.

“There’s a photo I took years ago in which I put a couch on a train track, and it became the telltale of most of my pieces,” Pete says. “The center of the home is comfort and security, that’s what we build inside the home, and a lot of that comes down to the furnishings.”

These subtle symbols and messages are what draw visitors to Pete’s booth year after year. Not only do they discover more about his story, they often uncover more of their own.

“I’ve had people cry, laugh, go in a direction they never thought they would go to in an art show,” Pete says. “It’s been more about the people than the artwork. And the concentration of connections with people is amazing. There’s a lot to experience in my world from meeting so many people.”

See more of Pete’s story below: