Updated: Aug 16, 2019
I recently had the opportunity to view a piece of art from an artist I’ve followed since my teens. His name is Peter Howson, a living artist I came across when a teacher pointed out I might like his work because of my strong lines. What I didn't realise was that more than style, theme would resonate with me.
Peter Howson is a very misunderstood artist and information on him has grown as I’ve aged. Some people see his work as Marmite, love or hate. His work is almost cartoon like, if you don't understand complexity of figure, form and skill involved in his work. It is often transcribed from only his head, scribbling to get it just right and thrashing of paintbrushes in the studio. His themes involve the unglamorous elements of life, ‘the down and outs, the boxing ring, the girls out on town’ shouting screaming, rarely static and only gives a glimmer of contentment when the painting is finished, the oil sits still and the canvas gets hung.
Unlike others he does not make hero's out of these people but reserves judgement. What a relief. This is how his work is real and how you know he was in it, living it.
So waiting for Mass to finish outside St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow. I watch the people leave. The congregation mark invisible crosses upon their chest as they go and I already feel involved in the theatrics of Howson’s early influences. He said the first thing he remembers enjoying painting as a child was the crucifixion and the themes of Catholicism. Yet he followed an un-divine life. It is strange to think his work would be hung in this cathedral, I wondered how would it work in such a traditional setting.
Inside the cathedral apart from feeling uneasy that I was breaking some kind of rule or being insensitive, I knew I had to go see his work! It was my only chance, viewing it felt like an accomplishment like seeing an old friend when your life has taken you separate ways. And for a short while, we stood apart in strong embrace.
People who don't consciously follow art may not realise how, much like music, art has time and place in your life. Finding an old CD or a song on the radio may take you to a feeling or a space, art is like that to those who feel strongly towards it. Howson’s work reminds me of the outcast, the feeling that someone else was in the depths of it like me.
His work to me depicts the feelings of the EDL travelling through town which was loud and savage, the market and trades people, the girls sprawling out of the clubs in the wild and reckless way that youth is. The left over, left out industrious home town. The streets you don't go down at night and the characters that you view, the stories you hear in a hushed warning. At the time I was making my way into the world, observing these nuances, intimidated and yet completely absorbed in the way this grime felt more real to me than Monet, Peter Howson.
So powerful are your early art influences they leave a stain on your soul and like music we dance in their gloriousness for a painted lifetime…