Peter Howson was born in London of Scottish parents. He moved with his family to Prestwick, Ayrshire, when was aged four. He was raised in a religious family and his first ever painting was a Crucifixion. He was just 6 years old.
He spent a short time as an infantry soldier in the Royal Highland Fusiliers. He then left to study at the Glasgow School of Art, from 1975 to 1977, and from 1979 to 1981. Here he worked alongside contemporaries such as Adrian Wiszniewski, Steven Campbell and Ken Currie.
On graduating, Peter Howson took on various jobs, including nightclub bouncer and supermarket manager before enlisting as a private soldier in the Royal Highland Fusiliers. In 1979, disenchanted with the army, he returned to art school and from 1981 began to show at Edinburgh’s influential 369 Gallery.
His early works are typified by very masculine working class men, most famously in The Heroic Dosser (1987). Later, Peter Howson was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum of London, to be the official war artist for the Bosnian/Hercegovina aggression in 1993. Here he produced some of his most shocking and controversial work. He detailed the atrocities which were taking place at the time.
One painting in particular, Croatian and Muslim, detailing a rape, created controversy. This was partly because of its explicit subject matter but also because Howson had painted it from the accounts of its victims. Peter Howson is arguably one of the finest and certainly one of the most controversial British painters of the late 20th and 21st centuries.
He was also the official war painter at the Kosovo War for the London Times.
Much of his work cast stereotypes on the lower social groups. He portrayed brawls including drunken, even physically deformed men and women.
What might be said to be Howson’s signature style first emerged in a series of murals made for Feltham Community Association in London in 1982, painted in an urban realist manner. He quickly developed this into a style highly reminiscent of Max Beckmann, with exaggerated musculature, sinister characters and voluptuous nudes. He also embraced Beckmann’s subject matter of extreme physical cruelty, depravity and dysfunctional behaviour. He was further influenced by the Mexican muralists of the early 20th century including Hidalgo, Rivera and Clemente.
In more recent years his work has exhibited strong religious themes. Some say this is linked to the treatment of his alcoholism and drug addiction at the Castle Craig Hospital in Peebles in 2000. After this epsode he converted to Christianity. Peter Howson also has Asperger syndrome.
His work has appeared in other media. His widest exposure being for a British postage stamp which he designed in 1998 to celebrate engineering achievements for the millennium. In addition, his work has been used on album covers by Live (Throwing Copper), The Beautiful South (Quench) and Jackie Leven (Fairytales for Hardmen).
His work is exhibited in many major collections. It is also in the private collection of celebrities such as David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Madonna.
Peter Howson is now recognized as one of his generation’s leading figurative painters.
Peter Howson has work in Public Collections across the world, including:
Aberdeen Art Gallery
Bankfield Museum, Halifax
British Broadcasting Corporation
British Museum, London
Cartwright Hall, Bradford
Christie’s Corporate Collection
City Art Centre, Edinburgh
City Art Gallery, Southampton
Contemporary Art Society
deYoung Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco
Dundee Art Gallery
Eigsee Festival Collection
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Glasgow Museums (Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove) Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon
Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
Imperial War Museum, London
Isle of Man Arts Council
Kilmarnock and Loudoun District Museums
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Lloyds TSB Group plc, London
The Maclaurin Trust, Ayr
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Ministry of Defence, London
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Norway, Oslo
New York Library
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Paisley Art Gallery
Pallant House Gallery
Paul Mellon Centre, Yale University, Washington People’s Place Museum
Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University, Lancaster Robert Fleming Merchant Bank, London
Royal Bank of Scotland
Scottish Development Agency
The Arts Council of Great Britain
The Scottish Arts Council
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh Scottish Television (STV)
Tate Gallery, London
University College of Wales, Aberystwyth
University of Salt Lake City
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
We have a number of Peter Howson paintings for sale at Trent Art – view them here