BIPOLAR PAINTINGS BY PETER HOWSON, THE SCOTTISH BOSCH
For Hieronymus Bosch, â€œonly individual abnormalities, excessive individuality, caricature have any meaning,â€?writes Max FriedlÃ¤nder. â€œAs a psychologist Bosch is one-sided to the point of monomania. The very idea of the Passion of Christ evokes in his mind an orgy of mockery and devilish spite and he cannot invent enough hideous monstrosities to pour down hatred and contempt on the adversaries of Our Lord, whereas the divine suffering seems vague or even ambiguous.â€?1)
It is the same for Peter Howson, also a religious painter of suffering, but he does not have to invent his hideous human monstrosities: he finds them on the streets of Glasgow. Particularly in Gallowgate, â€œwhere all the down-and-outs are in Glasgow, and the prostitutes and drug addicts,â€?with whom Howson identifies, having once been a drug addict himself, as he acknowledges. He lives and works in Gallowgate, appropriately named, for â€œbad things happen there,â€?â€œdrunken howls and noises in the streets,â€?which Howson can appreciate, having once been an alcoholic, as he also remarks. The people there may be â€œscum,â€?and sometimes violent -- â€œunderclass hooligansâ€?-- but theyâ€™re â€œreal in comparison to the people who generally hang about the art world,â€?and, more importantly, they are â€œnearer to salvation than the suburban Middle Class.â€?They were â€œdesperateâ€?for it without knowing that they were.
Bosch was also a â€œmoralist,â€?as Charles Cuttler reminds us, using â€œfantasy. . . in the furtherance of his moral narrative.â€?His paintings were â€œmoral sermons that constantly reiterate manâ€™s folly and its inevitable consequence of punishment in Hell.â€?2) So it is with Howson, whose â€œHades Seriesâ€?of four paintings from 2011 makes the same point. Howson had painted the wretched of the earth in his Blind Leading the Blind Series (1991), indebted to Pieter Bruegelâ€™s painting of the same theme -- but Howsonâ€™s figures have eyes that see the world clearly however blind they are to themselves, and more gruesome and troubled if also more truculent and hopeless faces, as The Bridge to Nowhere makes clear, and are more expressionistically painted, as Silent Scream shows -- but he truly came into his religious and moralistic own in his Ecce Homo Series and Stations of the Cross Series (2002-03).
He had found religion, if not exactly salvation: Howsonâ€™s Christ is a victim not a redeemer. It is not the resurrected, transfigured, everlasting Christ, but the mortal, suffering, miserable Man of Sorrows, as a 2004 drawing declares, imprisoned, vilified, his body abused, tortured, mortified and finally crucified by the rabble -- the very people he has come to save -- as Crucified Figure and Mob (2002) makes very clear. It was not any old religion that Howson found, but the religion of his native Scotland, with its rugged terrain and punitive weather. When I was the Robertson Fellow at the University of Glasgow I was told that you can experience all four seasons in one day in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh, where violent storms would suddenly come in from the Atlantic, and where Howsonâ€™s Christ series made its first stormy appearance under the auspices of the Scottish Bible Society, with its sternly moralistic determination to spread â€œThe Word for the world.â€?
Howsonâ€™s Christ is a street person who was betrayed by the crowds in the street. He was an Outcast(2011) who was destroyed by other outcasts. These profoundly anti-social works, a species of imitatio Christi, remind one of similar works made by DÃ¼rer -- one of Howsonâ€™s artist-heroes, along with Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, suggesting that, like them, Howson carries the maniera tedesca to a morbid extreme -- if an expressionistic DÃ¼rer. But then there is an expressionistic flair to Durerâ€™s Apocalypse Series -- they also condemn, punish and damn society as a whole -- and later Large and Small Passion Series. Howsonâ€™s works have the same incisive intensity, suggesting strong passion under precarious control.
Howsonâ€™s own apocalyptic imagery -- so he has characterized his work -- follows their lead, as he has acknowledged. When he was young he â€œthought the world was going to end,â€?and became â€œcaught up in painting apocalyptic scenes, look[ing] at DÃ¼rer and Bosch,â€?whose technique as well as imagery inspired him. And like DÃ¼rer, Howson is a master portraitist -- a great psychological portraitist, as his Gallow Guest House portraits show.
â€œIâ€™ve got Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome,â€?Howson says, â€œa form of autism which means that social interaction is quite difficult, you have to learn it.â€?His Hades Series,Spirit of the Age, City of Destruction, and Far North(all 2011), suggest that he hasnâ€™t done so: heâ€™s obsessed with the â€œbad social interactionâ€?between Christ and the crowd, evident in the violence with which they treat him (and each other).
For Howson the city is a violent, chaotic, oppressively crowded yet lonely, alien place -- what the behavioural psychologists call a behavioural sink, where people are in such close proximity that they sometimes crazily act out to make space for themselves, act out what Thoreau called their â€œquiet desperationâ€?or Winnicott described as the feeling of the futility and unreality of it all that accompanies annihilative anxiety, going dead on the inside, where they are surrounded by strangers and never quite at ease with others and themselves -- where people often self-destruct. Drugs and drink are the preferred way of doing so. Howsonâ€™s world is incurably mad and disastrous.
When I recently met with Howson in New York he told me that he had just come out of the mental hospital, where he had been treated for clinical depression. I suggested that he was bipolar, on the evidence of his works -- they seemed to encode what Winnicott called the â€œmanic defenseâ€?against the â€œdeath inside.â€?He agreed; his doctors said the same thing. He was treated with the anti-depressant Lorazepam. Itâ€™s the â€œsecretâ€?of his paintings. The boat which Charon ferries across the river Lethe in Hades I is cryptically named the â€œEam Loraz,â€?a scrambled version of â€œLorazapam,â€?as Howson acknowledges.
The painting O Land Zapene (2012) also scrambles the name of the drug, in what seems a futile attempt at irony, for that work, however manically dynamic pictures the same depressing, imprisoning crowd as the Hades pictures. Along with Back Fire and Arrival (also 2012), it is the most powerfully painterly, brashly abstract work in the exhibition. Howson told me that they were new â€œexperiments,â€?but their compulsive energy is already evident in the expressionist Crucified Man and Mob. Howson is a narrative painter, but he has only one narrative to tell, and he tells it with great passion.
Commenting on what he calls â€œBritartâ€?(no doubt to distinguish his â€œScotartâ€?from it), he notes that â€œLucian Freud is still just an academic painter who doesnâ€™t actually have imagination. Artists have to have imagination. Lucian Freud canâ€™t paint anything he doesnâ€™t see in front of him. . . when you see his portraits of people, thereâ€™s a kind of emptiness, thereâ€™s no heart there.â€?â€œI donâ€™t think thereâ€™s one Britart artist that is any good at all. I think theyâ€™re con men actually. Clever people like Charles Saatchi and Jay Jopling brought on Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. . . . The whole meaning of art has gone because of the lack of an absolute: whatâ€™s good and whatâ€™s bad?. . . If you look back in 50 years on this period, people will see it as a bad one for art. . . the whole Britart thing is based on apathy, itâ€™s based on intellectual chatterings.â€?br />
But then itâ€™s been a good period for Howson, who has restored Northern painting to credibility by renewing its religiosity, and reminding us that painting continues to be the one cultural space in which it is still possible for â€œtrue emotions to come out.â€?Emotional realism is never out of fashion, however unfashionable in some quarters of the art world, where, as Howson says, â€œgoing to the best parties and being seen in the Press in the right placesâ€?are regarded as more important than art.
DONALD KUSPIT is distinguished professor emeritus of art history and philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook and A.D. White professor at large at Cornell University.
(1) Max J. FriedlÃ¤nder, Early Netherlandish Painting: From Van Eyck to Bruegel (London: Phaidon, 1965), 60, 58
(2) Charles D. Cuttler, Northern Painting: From Pucelle to Bruegel (New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1968), 198
(3) All the quotations from Howson are taken from his interview with Steven Berkoff, Peter Howson (London: Flowers East, 2005; exhibition catalogue), 5-13
HELL AND BACK: THE RELIGIOUS PAINTINGS OF PETER HOWSON
Peter Howson has found religion. To longstanding students of this Scottish brutalist-realist the news will be a matter of some surprise, or not. He has dealt with apocalypse for most of his career, and it is clear from often harrowing imagery that here is a man with his own demons. But he is a painter who takes such relish in the underbelly of humanity, dealing out cruel satire, that one wonders how he could paint salvation or bliss.
Howson belongs to the generation of realists who established Glasgow as a significant center of figurative revival in the 1980s. While Adrian Wisniewski and the late Steven Campbell brought respectively fey and fogey twists to the Italian transavanguardia, Howson, with fellow fiery man-of-the people Ken Currie, represented the more social realist side of the Glasgow Boys. Less party line than Currie, who tended towards murals celebrating labor leaders of yore, Howson came to specialize in an extreme mannerism that married a veneer of Renaissance/Old Master technique with moral excoriation of social dystopia. He tapped the mood of anger at economic polarization in a Britain under Margaret Thatcher even if the stylistics seemed a half-century out of date: Satanic mills on fire, street fighting mobs, depraved scenes worthy of Hogarthâ€™s Gin Lane. Stylistically, he is a sort of cross between Thomas Hart Benton and John Currin, but without the humor of either of these Americans. Not that Americans reject him for thatâ€”Madonna and, it was reported, Sylvester Stallone became loyal collectors.
Starting out at the legendary Glasgow School of Art in a fully-fledged neo-expressionist style, his work matured through the 1990s from cartoonish â€œbovver boyâ€?National Front-supporting thugs with bulging neck muscles and bull terriers who looked like their canine twins to sprawling, brooding, hysterical and riotous crowd scenes with lighting to recall the operatic Victorian John Martin and allegory of a neo-medieval sensibility redolent of Bertolt Brecht and early Fritz Lang. His eight-foot wide frieze, Age of Apathy (1992) massed his bull-necked pot-bellied, wife-beater and baseball-cap sporting yobs, many sieg heiling in the general direction of condemned men strung-up on poles. The only female admitted to this mayhem was a dazed, voluptuous blonde lolling her beefy thigh over a pedestal and gazing nonchalantly at the doomed scene.
Later in the 1990s, Howson was picked by the British army as an official war artist and sent to cover Bosnia. What he found there largely confirmed his already resolutely misanthropic worldview, but according to a sensitive if somewhat sensationalizing recent documentary from the BBC, the experience precipitated a nervous breakdown. He was eventually to receive a diagnosis of Aspergerâ€™s syndrome. Religion came with recovery from acute alcoholism. The BBC film recounts his struggle to fulfill a commission from Glasgowâ€™s Roman Catholic cathedral (Howson is a Protestant and Glasgow is still a city with a sectarian divide) for a mural of the reformation martyr St John Ogilvie. What was to have been a massive crowd scene was eventually delivered as focus on the victim awaiting his noose.
His present show at Flowers Gallery in Chelsea, the New York outpost of his longstanding London dealers, shows a series depicting the harrowing of hell and other scenes of massed damnation in a show optimistically titled â€œRedemption.â€? Most of Howsonâ€™s stock characters are here in trumps, though in a concession to the timelessness of ecclesiastical imagery, the thugs have lost their singlets, if none of their meanness. Males continue to dominate the scene (the women one hopes are in heaven) though there are occasionally buttocks and thighs to continue tempting the damned. Stylistically the artist has graduated to adventurous compressions of space and imaginative liberties with scale, making his paintings feel more old-masterly, although the expressionist treatment of distant architecture, one of his more potent tropes, remains.
The problem for Howson is how to depict the saved, not to mention the Savior, when his figural vocabulary remains so resolutely binary. His murky mannerism only admits two types: the siren and the ghoul. His uncouth Christ doesnâ€™t merely conform to Gothic norms that would perfectly make sense of an artist of northern sensibility: no one would expect Howson to deliver an effete, Italianate beauty for the Man of Sorrows. But the Christ in his Outcast(2011) seems only distinguishable from the gargoyles tormenting him thanks to his crown of thorns.
Everyone should be happy for the artist that he has found consolation in religion. But blessedness is still banned from Howsonâ€™s canvases-spiritual or alas aesthetic. In pictorial terms, the convert remains happiest in Hell.
PETER HOWSON is one of todayâ€™s most interesting and powerful figurative painters. Unfortunately thatâ€™s not quite the accolade it used to be. Now 45, he is the most successful of the â€œGlasgow Boysâ€?who emerged in the Eighties; Throughout his career he has been highly prolific and consistent, in both his distinctive, lumpen, brutal and almost comic style and subject matter.
He is a painter of the people, setting scenes of degraded urban lifethrough which walk aparade of boxers, drunks, businessmen, tarts, OAPs and football hooligans, all lifted straight from the streets of his home city. What he brings to these contemporary themes, above competent composition and draughtsmanship, is an intense, sincere and emotive power that should have earned him greater recognition from the art establishment.
That said, there is one weakness, exposed particularly in some of the paintings in this exhibition of religious work. His style, which is likely to have been set fast by long years of practice, has the advantage of making a Howson look like a Howson and was suited to some of the content of his earlier pieces. However, when illustrating the Stations of the Cross, the 14 stages in Jesusâ€™s short journey from the place of his condemnation to the place of his crucifixion and then burial, its heaviness and deliberate ugliness intrudes.
There have, in other works - notably a few oil paintings inspired by Howsonâ€™s stint as a war artist in Bosnia - been hints or a looser, freer painter beneath the surface, but for now he remains repressed. Nevertheless the 14 small paintings here, and the accompanying series of preparatory drawings, are brave and successful engagements with a subject clearly important to Howson, who became a believer after rehabilitation from alcoholism. Effectively simplified, they focus on the human face of Christ, pressed against the muddy ground when he stumbles on in pain when crowned with thorns. Howson convinces viewers that his Jesus is a suffering man.Formally the drawings, perhaps, are more accomplished, energetic but well-balanced compositions. Despite their virtues, Howsonâ€™s works are unlikely to gain the public patronage they deserve, which is a shame for many things are contemporary, even paintings of Christ.
THE REFORMED SINNER WHO WILL PAINT A SAINT
THE artist who made his name by painting Madonna in the nude is to create the most significant Roman Catholic work of art in Scotland since the Reformation.
Church leaders have commissioned Peter Howson to paint the Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie, a huge 26ft by 16ft work for the interior of St Andrewâ€™s Cathedral in Glasgow. St John Ogilvie was hanged within yards of the church in 1615 and Howson, a convert to Christianity who has also recovered from drink and drug addictions, said he hoped his painting would renew the faith of all who see it. Featuring the largest crowd scene ever painted in Scotland - with more than 600 figures - the painting will adorn an altar in the cathedral from 2010 and is expected to become a tourist attraction.
The internationally-acclaimed Glasgow artist, who squandered Â£1 million on his addictions and once painted 'private commissions' for gangsters to feed his habits, has been a Christian for eight years. Since his Madonna days, he has become well known for devotional artworks - and the Roman Catholic Church said it had no qualms in choosing him. Archbishop Mario Conti, the leader of the cityâ€™s Catholics, said: "This is the biggest commission for a Scottish cathedral since the Reformation. Peter is a world-class painter and I admire his artistic talent and his spirituality." The Archbishop said it had been his ambition for years to extend the churchâ€™s historical and artistic heritage . He added: "Peter is acclaimed here and abroad for his powerful religious imagery and he is fascinated by St John Ogilvie."
The cathedral will close in 2009 for renovation and the painting will adorn the Blessed Sacrament altar when it reopens. Howson's work sells for six-figures but the Archbishop said: "The project is underwritten and all costs covered by benefactors. who do not want to be named. It is being done at no cost to the Church."
Howson, 50, who studied at Glasgow School of Art, is known for his powerful figurative work, which is collected by celebrities such as Madonna, David Bowie, Bob Geld of and Jack Nicholson. The artist is about to stage a Â£1million exhibition, featuring his most expensive work - an 8ft x 6ft oil called The Harrowing of Christ with a price tag of Â£300,000. In May, Howson set a record for his work at Sothebyâ€™s when his triptych - The Three Faces of Eve - sold for Â£300,500.
The artist said: "I'm delighted and humbled to be to asked to create a work of art for a cathedral. I've always had a secret ambition to do something for the Vatican - maybe this is the first step."
Howson, who suffers from Aspergers syndrome, a form of high functioning autism, confessed that the prospect of creating his largest ever painting "frightens the hell out of me". He added: "However, I am looking forward to starting it."
GLASGOW ARTIST PETER HOWSON TALKS TO JOAN McFADDEN
About faith in God, addiction to alcohol and why he is using his skills to draw attention to disability
PETER HOWSON is extremely upfront about many things: art, God, the world and all its problems, man's inhumanity to man and the ultimate solution (God again) â€?and the fact he feels he shouldn't be doing this interview.
"Only because I feel I'm drawing attention to me giving to charity â€?which is exactly what charity shouldn't be about," he says.
However, in donating the final painting from his John Lennon series for auction at the Enable charity ball being held in Glasgow on 13 September, he knows that publicity is more important than hiding his light under a bushel, to echo the religious theme that now runs through every aspect of his life. Furthermore, in planning a bespoke painting for the charity about his experience of learning disability â€?in terms of his own Asperger syndrome, a type of autism characterised by difficulties with social interaction, and his daughter's complex learning disabilities â€?there is no doubt this charismatic, outspoken artist will showcase disability to a wide and fascinated audience who might otherwise never stop to think about it.
Howson has never been a national treasure, possibly because he simply isn't typical "treasure" material. He's too angry and outspoken, depicting the darker sides of life â€?and in the past, living it â€?and drawing attention to stark realities, not just in his portrayal of the grind of everyday life, but also in his role as official war artist in Bosnia. However, as one of Britain's most celebrated artists who has successfully captured the imagination of the glitterati (customers include Madonna, David Bowie and Mick Jagger) he has a shrewd awareness of his worth in terms of making people sit up and take notice. "I want this new picture to make people realise what it's like to have Asperger's," he explains. "It will be a special painting revealing exactly what it's like to live like this, which is a very alien place where you don't feel part of the world. It's as if all of you are characters in a TV show that only I am aware of and it's so important that people are made aware of this condition. "Some of the greatest artists and musicians have appeared to suffer from this over the centuries so I wouldn't say creativity is affected by it. But it's very hard to live with it and relate easily to other people. I was diagnosed in 1993 and it was a great relief to know there was something there that was at the root of how I behave.
"My daughter Lucie, who is 22, was diagnosed at the age of seven, but she also has physical disabilities to deal with, such as a hole in the heart, epilepsy, a collapsed lung and narcolepsy. That doesn't define her â€?she's a wonderful warm human being, a good person â€?but Asperger's can have a huge impact on your life, in all sorts of ways. It can make you very manipulative, which you have to battle with."
That isn't his only battle: Howson has been fighting to stay sober since 2000, when his addiction to drink and drugs lead him to check himself into Castle Craig clinic in Peebles. "I had reached the stage physically where I could hardly make it up the three small steps I had in my kitchen and I went in to Castle Craig expecting to be gently handled," he recalls wryly. "Instead, I got kicked about! But it was there I found God again, although I had always believed. "I'd been angry for years, and drinking and taking drugs was part of that, but I realised God's the only addiction you can safely have. Over three or four months I had a very slow, undramatic recognition of what it felt like to be loved and loving. It wasn't a Road to Damascus experience in terms of a sudden revelation, though the outcome was the same. "I've had many religious experiences and absolutely never through drink or drugs, but now I know that God is the answer â€?the only answer. That enables me to try to keep myself safe every day and to try to make the decisions we should all be making, which is making the right decision rather than what you want. I still live my life for the moment and don't worry about the future."
He is cheerfully unrepentant about replacing one addiction with another â€?though religion in his case should be less destructive than drink and drugs â€?and is equally adamant this is the one solution for everyone.
His recent exhibition of pictures depicting Pete Doherty dead is typical of his desire to wind people up and get a response and while he hasn't heard directly from Doherty, he has been told the singer was shocked enough at the paintings to concentrate on writing rather than partying. "I'm not sure how true that is but I do think I can say something to people going through the same addictions I have," says Howson. "Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse, Peaches Geldof â€?they have to recognise you simply cannot have your cake and eat it. I know Bob Geldof, I'm very fond of him, but I'm sure he will be incandescent with rage if it's true his daughter had a drug overdose, but that isn't the way to deal with it. We need to start looking after each other better â€?by all means send money abroad to help other people, but at the same time keep an eye on the old man next door who hasn't been seen for three days. Never mind saving the planet, the answer lies in saving all the people."
Saving them also means spiritual as well as physical nurture, which in Howson's view is helped by what he considers to be engaging with reality. "You have people like Richard Dawkins belittling and denying other people's faith," he says scathingly. "That guy's in an ivory tower â€?he has no idea what it's like to live in some dreadful estate in utter poverty where your faith is all you've got. People like him should try living in those circumstances before they attempt to explain how faith is clinging to superstition. I'm not saying I've ever done that but at least I live close enough to reality to see what life is really like for so many people. "We should stop analysing the world and simply be grateful for what God has given us. Dawkins is trying to unweave a divine tapestry, a picture none of us can see clearly because we're in it. â€?we should all be turning to God. That is our only answer."
HOW MAN WHO PAINTED THIS MADONNA IS NOW CATHOLIC CHURCHâ€™S FAVOURITE ARTIST
HE PAINTED pop star Madonna in the nude, went to war armed with charcoal and oils, and battled an addiction to drink and drugs. Now Peter Howson, Scotlandâ€™s most famous contemporary artist, is undertaking his
greatest challenge yet by completing a massive painting for the Catholic Church which the artist hopes will rival Michelangeloâ€™s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
The Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie will be a giant oil painting, 5m wide and 8m high, which will feature 600 individual figures in the largest crowd scene ever painted in Scotland. The subject is the Catholic saint who was hanged at Glasgow Cross in 1615, and the work is the biggest commission by a Scottish Catholic cathedral since the Reformation. The artist, a born-again Christian who rediscovered his faith after quitting drinking eight
years ago, hopes the painting could lead to a commission from the Pope. He said: â€œSince I was young, I wanted to do a major painting for the Church. I looked at Michelangelo and thought, â€˜I would love to do something like thatâ€? That sounds big-headed and I suppose I am big-headed, but this is a dream for me.â€?br />
The painting should be completed by 2010, when St Andrewâ€™s Cathedral in Clyde Street reopens after major renovation works. Yesterday, Archbishop Mario Conti said: â€œSt John Ogilvie is our only canonised Scottish martyr. I have always felt that we should have some memorial to this saint. Now the opportunity has arisen to have a truly world-class painting done by Peter Howson, a painter I have long admired both for his artistic talent and his spirituality.â€?The cost of the commission has not been disclosed, but has been met by anonymous benefactors.
Mr Howson, who previously painted his interpretation of Madonna in the nude and was the Imperial War Museumâ€™s official artist during the Bosnian war in 1995, has in recent years dedicated his artwork to religious themes. Yesterday he said: â€œI have an image of the painting in my head. Itâ€™s a martyrdom of a great man of courage. My job is to awaken people with the image.â€?When Archbishop Conti was asked how the man who painted a naked Madonna ended up with such a commission, he joked: â€œIf you want to see nudes, you only have visit the Sistine Chapel.â€?br />
The controversial artist also criticised a Â£1.5 million golden statue of model Kate Moss and said modern art is â€œgimmickyâ€? He said: â€œThat Kate Moss statue, thatâ€™s disgusting. Most of the art world is trying to do something gimmicky. True art is when you try not to be original.â€?
Between two and three hundred preparatory drawings will be drafted by Mr Howson before he embarks on the final work. The artist, who has previously painted a 100ft mural in London, said â€˜industrial amountsâ€?of
paint will be required. â€œI presume it will be done on canvas. But it will have to be a specially made canvas thatâ€™s big enough.â€?The commission was applauded by James Macmillan, the Catholic composer, who said: â€œThe Catholic Church in Glasgow has now stepped into the forefront of the dialogue between religion and culture. The implications of this painting -
its size, subject, place in Glasgow, its focus in the worship of modern
Christians - is stunning.â€?
FROM BISCUIT-TIN BORING TO A LONELY, BLOATED POET
HOWSON REVEALS HIS TALKE ON BURNS
A NEW depiction of Robert Burns as a bloated, melancholy writer at the end of his life will be displayed at a landmark exhibition in Glasgow this year. Peter Howsonâ€™s images of Burns towards the end of his 37 years will be part of the exhibition by nearly 50 contemporary artists, each showing work inspired by the national bard, at the Mitchell Library from April to September this year.
One of the largest curated exhibitions in Glasgowâ€™s recent history, Inspired will also feature Burns-inspired art work from Tracey Emin -believed to be a large painting - works from John Byine, Calum Colvin,Jake and Dinos
Chapman, as well as many others, and is being publicised by a pop-art â€œRabbie Warholâ€?image.
The exhibition, in the libraryâ€™s Old Reading Hall, will be augmented by Burns relics and the Mitchellâ€™s own Burns collection of documents, including the original manuscript of Auld Lang Syne, bought in 1998, which will be shown for the first time in Glasgow. Yesterday the exhibition was formally launched with Howsonâ€™s depictions of the bard, showing what he called the traditional â€œboringâ€?image of the poet, as well as a more dishevelled look, an image of the poet in a moment of inspiration, and then towards the end of his life, sad and plagued with ill health.
Howson, who last week revealed his recent images of Jade Goody, the reality TV star, said he had been inspired by Burnsâ€?poetry his entire life as he also spent his younger years in Ayrshire. â€œI have never read his biographies, only his poetry, and that has given me enough of an impression of the man, and he was a complicated man; romantic, earthy, sad and indecisive,â€?he said. â€œBurns was taken away at an early age, and if he had lived longer he probably would have become the worldâ€™s greatest poet. No one has ever written with more humanity; he is so popular in Russia because he represents the people.â€?br />
Of his images, he said: â€œHe has always been represented as this kind of dandy, in a Mills and Boon type of way for the side of biscuit tins, and I think in a way this exhibition is trying to rescue him from that. He was romantic, but that has nothing to do with sentimentality. â€œBurns died sad and lonely, and one of my pictures shows him that way: bloated and
alone. But thatâ€™s the reality of what happened to him.â€?br />
Other images in the exhibition will include a portrait of Burns in silver leaf, installations featuring sculptures and film, and one involving a gravestone. Sheilagh Tennant, the curator of the exhibition, said: â€œI think this exhibition will give the opportunity to see Scotland in a new light, and an unprecedented chance to show Robert Burnsâ€?enduring appeal. â€œOnly one of the modern works of art have been seen in public before, and only half of the relics.â€?br />
The exhibition will celebrate Glasgowâ€™s part in the Homecoming Scotland festival marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759. Other items in the exhibition include a copy of Religions Essential to Man from 1761, given to James Tennant in 1786 by Burns, a letter given to John Tennant in 1788 by the Bard, and a number of other items. The exhibition, of which The Herald is media partner, will run from April 4 until September 20. The Burns collection at the Mitchell has more than 4000 items related to the famous poet, including two copies of the Kilmarnock Edition (1786), containing his first collection of poems, and two printings of the, Edinburgh and London editions (1787 ).
SCOTTISH ARTIST PETER HOWSONâ€™S TORMENT LAID BARE
IT WAS the biggest commission of an illustrious career - but the quest to create a holy tableau for the Popeâ€™s visit to Scotland turned into a two-year nightmare that saw one of Scotlandâ€™s most prominent artists driven to the brink of madness. Even by the standards of Peter Howsonâ€™s turbulent life story - from war artist to battles with drug addiction - the story of his painting of St John Ogilvie became a disaster-stricken saga, a new documentary reveals.
In 2008 Archbishop Mario Conti commissioned Howson to produce a depiction of the scene of the Scottish saintâ€™s martyrdom to mark the planned renovation of St Andrewâ€™s, the mother church of Scottish Catholicism. It was to be unveiled for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, planned as a vast crowd scene, about eight by six metres in size.
But in the next two years Howson reached a new low in his struggle with mental illness, diagnosed with a severe form of autism even as he was made an OBE by the Queen. He placed his business affairs in the hands of legal guardians after it emerged a former manager was a convicted drug dealer.
â€œI understood what it was like to be in the mind of a madman,â€?Howson says in the film. â€œItâ€™s not a very nice place to be. You donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m like. You donâ€™t know how mad I am.â€?The Madness of Peter Howson is broadcast on BBC2 Scotland on Monday night. It is narrated by actor Peter Capaldi, who describes the painter as a man â€œwith a turbulent past and a present haunted by financial problemsâ€?
The Glasgow archdiocese provided Howson with a disused church in which to paint what it called â€œthe most important commission for a Scottish Catholic Cathedral since the Reformationâ€? Assistants knocked giant letter-box shaped holes in the brick walls to take a series of large canvases into the building. But as the renovation of St Andrewâ€™s was delayed in a contractor row - it will now reopen next year - Howson took nine months to start and sold his collection of books to pay for paints. He finally abandoned the project for a smaller, single canvas, which he then painted over after weeks of work.
The image of St John Ogilvie, who was hanged and disembowelled in 1615 after being convicted of treason for leading a Catholic mass, was unveiled in a muted ceremony earlier this year. The final, single image of the saint was a fraction of its planned size. â€œIt was going to be a lot bigger, and it was going to be one of the largest crowd scenes in art history, but I worked on a painting for about nine months and then in one moment I completely destroyed it. A bit like Blue Peter, I had one prepared earlier,â€?Howson said.â€Itâ€™s a dark period. I fought my way through this, but Iâ€™m still not completely out of the woods,â€?he added. â€œItâ€™s about time I got on to a new chapter, because this chapter is starting to get really boring now.â€?br />
A new series of Howsonâ€™s paintings of Robert Burns are to be unveiled for the opening of the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway next month. In the film Howsonâ€™s long-time London dealer Matthew Flowers confirms that both David Bowie and Madonna collect the artistâ€™s work.
Actor Steven Berkoff, an Edinburgh Fringe favourite, shows his own collection in the film. He said: â€œHaving Howson in my life has in some way given me a sense of what I am. â€œWe need artists like we need lightning rods â€?It is the artist who is struck and scarred and burned by the lightning.â€?
HOWSON SET TO REVEAL HIS SAINT TRIBUTE
It may be the most significant commission of Peter Howsonâ€™s career.
The Herald can reveal that the popular Scottish artist, 51, has completed
his depiction of Saint John Ogilvie for the Archdiocese of Glasgow, and
it will be formally revealed to the public next April. A BBC Scotland
documentary, The Madness of Peter Howson, will be broadcast on Monday,
showing the tumultuous process he went through to create the striking
As The Herald reported earlier this year, Howson completed a full version
of the painting, complete with a vast crowd scene, before destroying it and
starting again with another more simple image, which will now form one of
the highlights of the renovation of St Andrewâ€™s Cathedral in Glasgow.
Last night, Archbishop Mario Conti said he was delighted with the finished
work. "It is a painting of great intensity which will not only be highly
regarded as a work of art, but will also be an aid to prayer and reflection,
which is, after all, its primary function,â€?he said. â€œIt shows John Ogilvie
just before the noose is tightened, revealing both the heroism, but also the
sadness of the occasion. "My hope is that it will become a much-loved
image which people will travel to see, and from which they will draw
Howson received the commission in 2008, for a work which is 24ft by 18ft.
But one day, despite having worked on it for eight months, he felt he had
to destroy the first version of the Martyrdom. The huge picture would have
been one of the largest crowd scenes, with more than 600 figures, ever
painted by a Scottish artist, a spectacular mob scene depicting the death
by hanging of the Scottish saint. The dramatic destruction led to Howson
rethinking the work and now it is a single "peaceful" figure of St John
Ogilvie, lit by a column of light.
St John Ogilvie was a Scottish priest hanged in Glasgow in 1615, at the age
of 36, after being tried for treason and tortured, unsuccessfully, to reveal
the names of other Catholics. Howson said: "Since I was very young I
have wanted to do a major painting for the churchâ€?I have been looking at
Michael-angeloâ€™s Sistine Chapel, I'd love to do something like that, I'd love
to do something major â€?that sounds very big-headed â€?but I suppose I am
in a way."
The programme follows Howson as he works on the painting over two
years, including times where he struggles with financial and health
problems. It also shows that the artist sought inspiration by going with
the Archbishop on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Madness of Peter
Howson, produced by Hand Pict Productions, is narrated by Peter Capaldi,
who attended Glasgow School of Art at the same time as the painter.