By Brent Beamon
“The art of Peter Howson is deeply ambitious in thought and deed. He deals passionately with profound personal, social and spiritual themes, using masterly technique to accentuate the positive, exaggerating line and colour, darkness and light, clarity and ambiguity. This is figurative, narrative art in the grand tradition.” – Robert Heller, London 2008
Peter Howson has established a formidable reputation as one of his generation’s leading figurative painters. Many of his paintings derive inspiration from the streets of Glasgow, where he was raised. He is renowned for his penetrating insight into the human condition, and his heroic portrayals of the mighty and meek.
His paintings are neither academic nor didactic in the style of history painting, but the sublimation of revelatory personal narratives. Religious overtures are proceeded by confession, as intimate details of the artist’s familial and spiritual relationships punctuate the parables of his urban imagination.
Howson does not shy away from the role that Christianity plays in his life and work. Through this spiritual guidance the artist emerged from inner crisis. The dramatic and dynamic paintings of Hades, which make up the majority this exhibition, depict the struggle to find hope in the dark recesses of existence. They reflect the suffering of a modern war-torn and technologically obsessed world, yet a sense of salvation can be found within. Paying homage to Bosch and Brueghel, Howson crowds his canvases with figures of various shapes and sizes, including many familiar echoes from his previous works, writhing in agony and praying for redemption. This deliverance often appears as a radiant figure symbolizing the painter’s daughter Lucie, another major factor in his road to recovery. In the painting Outcast Howson has used impastos to render a tranquil Christ, surrounded by a group of pariahs in search of atonement. This image could be deemed disturbing for many, however as with a good deal of Howson’s paintings there is a question here as to whom is the real outsider.
Howson was born in London in 1958. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1975-1977, and returned in 1979 to complete a Master’s degree. In 1985 he was made the Artist in Residence at the University of St. Andrews and also a part-time tutor at Glasgow School of Art. In 1992 he was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to record the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. He was appointed official British war artist for Bosnia in 1993 and a few years later, in 1996, was awarded Doctor of Letters Honoras Causa, University of Strathclyde. Howson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to the visual arts.
Peter Howson has exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe. His work is represented in public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the British Museum, London; the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art; and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.
The artist is represented by Flowers Gallery which is located at 529 West 20th Street in New York. The current exhibit of Howson’s work will be on view through May 5, 2012. For more information, contact gallery director Brent Beamon at 212 439 1700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All images are copyright Peter Howson and courtesy Flowers, New York / London.