PETER HOWSON FEATURE
“A snatch squad went up, kicked the door down and found this pissed guy, clutching a Kalashnikov, surrounded by drink, with his wife cowering in the corner. They took his weapon off him and smashed all the bottles. And then his wife made them all coffee.”
have been misinterpreted. He is suing the Daily Record over an article headlined ‘War Artist Flees War’ for portraying him as a coward. ‘They were basically saying I was shitting myself and sensationally quit. I don’t know why they said that. I don’t think it’s cowardly to admit that l was upset by what I saw.’
Howson was never in doubt that his life was constantly in danger and his trip was a trying time for his wife Terry. waiting for him in their farmhouse near Torrance. Before he left he told onejournalist that she was. ‘more worried about my head coming back intact than my body’.
‘Well, she knows I’m an unstable person,’ he smiles wryly. ‘She’s been having more nightmares than me. I didn’t think my daughter Lucie (7), had paid any attention but while I was gone she said that she thought her Daddy was going to die in Bosnia. My wife was horrified. lfl had known that I would have been on the first plane home. i don’t know how the soldiers can be apart from their families for six months.’
His affinity with the soldiers was slight. despite the much- reported fact that he spent a nine-month stint with the Royal Highland Fusiliers after quitting Glasgow Art School in his second year. He agrees that this background and the violent images for which he is renowned meant he was perceived as a macho man and expected to act accordingly. ‘But I’m not a macho man.’ he argues. ‘l‘m not that fit either.’ adds the 35-year-old who once trained as a boxer and was a hulking seventeen stone bouncer.
This very physical past is difficult to square with the quietly-spoken, mild-mannered man sitting here today. calling to mind Robert Heller’s assertion. in his recently published book on the artist. that ‘the violence that informs much of Howson’s imagery contrasts with the apparently gentle and easy-going surface of his life.’
It seems likely that Howson’s images of Bosnia will be stimulating and even more controversial than Gulf War artist. John Keane’s “Mickey Mouse at the Front’. He begins painting in September and believes it will signify a major turning point for him.
‘lt’s time for me to change anyway.’ he reflects. ‘This retrospective is a watershed show. I feel it will be easy to do the paintings. I have so many ideas. The only difficulty will be avoiding any clichés.’ He then says something characteristically surprising. ‘I was deeply affected by the beauty of the countryside there. that might affect my work quite a bit.’ Cl
V" W ‘3“
iiowson in his studio: ‘l'm still feeling pretty dodgy.’
A Pocket full of Poesies
HOWSON IS NOW
Andrew Gibbon Williams traces the themes of Peter Howson’s work, and asks to what degree his figurative realism is exaggerated.
nyone who requires artistic corroboration that Britain has. over the past decade and a half. turned into a nasty. thuggish. scary and downright dangerous society. need only take a glance at the work of Peter Howson.
The Glasgow painter — like all artists of merit - mapped out his territory early in his professional career and has rarely strayed from it. That territory might best be termed “Thatcher- land’; only the simple would refrain from ascribing the present social ills ofcities like Glasgow to the policies of the previous prime minister. In forging an artistic cmmentary on them. Howson has done us all a favour.
Howson’s pictures bulge with
The story is invariably one involving masculine aggressiveness; the shaven- headed
violent incident much as the
shabby T-shirts sported by his protagonists of
hideous heroes bulge with muscle. his sound
From the outset he distinguished
himself as an artist who was fired dramas! one
by narrative - the need to suggest. strongly
not [O [0“ a Story — and titles
almost always point the way: “ . ,
Hope And Glory. Death Of A snuﬂ'mov'es
Nation. Journey’s End. '0! light The story is invariably one enteftainment.
aggressiveness; the shaven-
headed protagonists of his sordid dramas. one strongly suspects. watch “snuff-movies’ for light entertainment. And the setting can range from the back-alley to the football stadium; anywhere. in fact. in which the great British male can be observed at his anti-social worst.
The world Howson depicts is exciting in literary as well as visual terms and Howson‘s technical skill — the anist draws with a kind of beefy panache and indulges in dramatic Chiaroscuro with a relish probably unequalled since i Caravaggio — allows him make the most of it.
Two questions. however. present themselves which may give . visitors to the grandiose retrospective of his work at the McLellan Galleries pause for thought: the first — how did an artist scarcely old enough to remember the Beatles arrive at a i manner of painting which has its roots in respectable. pre-
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