Flowers Gallery is delighted to present an exhibition of works by Scottish painter Peter Howson to coincide with his major retrospective at Edinburgh City Art Centre, When the Apple Ripens: Peter Howson at 65.
Considered one of his generation’s leading figurative painters, Howson was a focal member of a group of young artists to emerge from Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s, dubbed the ‘New Glasgow Boys.’ When the Apple Ripens, curated by David Patterson, marks Howson’s first major retrospective, bringing together over one hundred works from his student days to the present, many of which have never before been shown to the public.
This presentation of works at Flowers Gallery brings together a selection of Howson’s works from the 1980s to the present day. Five striking large-scale paintings installed upstairs testify to the artist’s fortyyear long exploration of human violence and suffering, something activated both by his time as a war artist in Bosnia in the 1990s and his own personal understanding of the struggles of everyday life. A painting from 1989 titled The Psycho Squad marks an early incantation of Howson’s career-long critique of collective violence as his characteristically threatening, writhing, sinuous figures charge forth forcefully wielding flags, baseball bats and maces. Entzauberung (2018), an arresting work from his 2018 Flowers Gallery exhibition Act Est Fabula, evidences his sustained fixation with the crowd motif over the years. Here he depicts a mob brandishing Union Jacks with the unmistakable white cliffs at Dover behind, a confronting and thought-provoking visualisation of issues of nationalism and frontier in contemporary Britain. In a recent painting, Darkness Visible (2023), Howson depicts giant figures wrestling a throng of armoured cyborgs, suggesting the potentially corruptive influence of technology on the collective psyche, namely its propensity to incite violence.
In sharp relief to these teeming crowd scenes, other works in this exhibition depict solitary figures, suggestive of the mob’s brutal aftermath. Someone Up There Likes Me, painted in 1989, shows a figure striding listlessly through empty streets, spotlit by a glowing streetlight. Bridge to Nowhere (1998-9) shows a figure crouched over felled bricks looking up to gloomy skies, his ripped clothes and hopeless expression exposing the devastating consequences of collective violence on individual lives.
City Art Centre, Edinburgh 27 May - 1 October 2023
Bringing together over 100 works tracing Howson’s career from his student days to the present, the exhibition has been assembled from public and private collections spanning the UK and Europe. Many of the works, privately commissioned from the artist, have never been seen in public. Included in the exhibition is Howson’s first self-portrait since 2008, painted at his Glasgow studio earlier this year in honour of the retrospective.
Spanning four floors, the exhibition includes Howson’s early work, dominated by depictions of working-class Glasgow men – dossers, boxers, bodybuilders. The huge Heroic Dosser from the National Galleries of Scotland is a key painting from this period and hangs alongside images of army life and nightclubs. In 1993 Peter was appointed Official War Artist in Bosnia by the Imperial War Museum, sponsored by The Times, and a section of the exhibition is devoted to this traumatic and harrowing experience.
The upper floors of the exhibition explore Howson’s more recent work. While in the depths of despair and his life at a very low ebb, Peter reached out to God. It was a life-changing moment. Many of the works exhibited on the second-floor gallery are inspired by his ongoing faith journey, including his Stations of the Cross series and numerous paintings never seen in public.
Howson continues to respond to contemporary events in his own unique way. The Covid 19 Pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine are themes he explores in his recent paintings and works on paper. The top floor of the exhibition includes seminal major works from the last decade, such as Prophecy and Babylon, as well as a new series of apocalyptic ink paintings, crammed with fearsome beasts and grotesque figures.