Peter Howson: When the World Changed The Lockdown Drawings


Throughout his career, Peter Howson (b. 1958) has interwoven themes of conflict and destruction, human suffering and redemption in his portrayals of contemporary British society. Strongly influenced by witnessing the brutal and personally harrowing realities of combat as an official war artist, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, London, during the Bosnian Civil War in 1993, Howson’s paintings have since been founded on increasingly nightmarish and apocalyptic visions of chaos and atrocity, and populated by a cast of fantastic, grotesque characters. These works he now sees in some ways as predictions for what was to come. When speaking of his 2016 painting Prophecy, the subject of the 2018 film documentary by the same name, Howson has said “I saw disaster ahead – a world gone mad, riots, wars, disease and a police station not unlike Orwell’s vision in 1984".

When the World Changed is an exhibition of Howson’s ongoing Lockdown series, started in March this year in response to the enforced lockdown. Through this series the artist documents his reaction and interpretation of the evolving global pandemic. During this time, Howson has found himself captivated by the state of the world, working daily from the early hours of the morning until late at night.


Peter Howson, Prophecy, 2016, Oil on canvas

“In addition to being a master of his craft, Peter has an extraordinary ability to read, and seemingly to predict, the challenges our society faces. War, poverty, religious conflict, nationalism, tribalism, the rise of ‘big technology’, the rise of the right and, now, global pestilence have become all too prevalent in the news cycle and our daily lives.  Peter’s masterwork ‘Prophecy’ anchored a dark and troubling line of work all the way to his most recent Coronavirus-inspired series of drawings – all of which are troubling, insightful, challenging and strongly evocative of our times” – Alistair Currie, 2020

"His bodies flow in a horrendous voluptuous twist of flesh, like thick- corded branches of trees. They seem torn out of the earth itself; it's as if they were heaved from its bowels." - Steven
 Berkoff, 2002

Peter Howson, Graviora Manent (Greater Dangers Remain: The Worst is Yet to Come), 2020, Various inks on paper.

"His compositions have the feeling of Baroque ceiling frescoes. Tightly packed figures tumble into view in a jumbled mass of arms and legs against contrived backdrops of billowing clouds, twisted trees, or sinister urban architecture. The artist delights in distorting perspective, varying scale, mixing time periods, and heightening light effects—all in the service of visual narrative." - John Kohan, Peter Howson and the Harrowing of Hell, 2013

Peter Howson
Graviora Manent (Greater Dangers Remain: The Worst is Yet to Come), 2020
Various inks on paper
51 x 76 cm | 20 1/8 x 29 7/8 in

"When he was young he “thought the world was going to end,” and became “caught up in painting apocalyptic scenes, look[ing] at Dürer and Bosch,” whose technique as well as imagery inspired him. And like Dürer, Howson is a master portraitist." - Donald Kuspit, Bipolar Paintings: Peter Howson, The Scottish Bosch, 2012

Peter Howson Till We Have Faces, 2020 Various inks on paper 24 x 23 cm | 9 1/2 x 9...
Peter Howson

Till We Have Faces, 2020
Various inks on paper
24 x 23 cm | 9 1/2 x 9 1/8 in

"Howson's work strikes a chord in our imagination, or perhaps strikes a warning tocsin. Myth, allegory, war and drama all feed Howson's fertile and vital imagination. While we have a Howson we can be safe knowing that British painting will have a legacy after the rest of the rotting carcasses have long turned to dust." Steven Berkoff, 2002


For additional information relating to this exhibition, please enquire below.


Prophecy, 2018

Trailer for feature documentary. Director Charlie Paul. Producer Lucy Paul. An Itch Film Production. Released in Picturehouse Cinemas. Broadcast on BBC.

An unprecedented insight into the mind of an artist as he works on creating a masterpiece. Beginning with a blank canvas, the film follows acclaimed artist Peter Howson on a journey that showcases his dark sense of humour as well as his immense talent. Discover the difficulties he has faced throughout his life that push his creative output, and marvel at the monumental reveal of the finished painting. The end result is a wonderfully crafted, candid documentary that celebrates the genius of an artist at the top of his game.

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