Peter Howson sits in his studio opposite a large canvas, decorated with a menagerie of bulbous, menacing figures. To his right are a collection of paint brushes and other tools of his trade. The scene he has created in the artwork is inspired by events in Ukraine.

“I had an exhibition in Hong Kong a few months ago which was based on covid and Ukraine. This is a new piece that’s almost finished, it’s called Wagner after the mercenary group. I think about Ukraine constantly – it’s just bully boys, the same old story. I think if I was younger and I didn’t have my daughter I would probably want to go there.”

Peter Howson OBE was born in London in 1958. He was a focal member of the group of young artists to emerge from the Glasgow School of Art during the 1980s dubbed the New Glasgow Boys, and one of his generation’s leading figurative painters. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1975 - 1977, and returned in 1979 to complete a Masters degree.

The National:

 “I didn’t like the beginning of my time at the art school, I left in the middle of my second year and joined the army. I didn’t last long with that and ended up working as a warehouse person before going back to art school. I started to really enjoy it.

“Sandy Moffat, a new tutor, arrived and I was lucky because he took a great interest in what I was doing. The atmosphere in Glasgow was amazing at the time for people that wanted to be creative. I felt as if something important was happening. It was in 1983 that people started buying the work.” 

 In 1985 he was made the Artist in Residence at the University of St Andrews and also became a part-time tutor at Glasgow School of Art. A pivotal moment for Howson came as he witnessed the harrowing realities of combat as an official war artist appointed by the Imperial War Museum during the Bosnian War from 1993-4, culminating in a solo exhibition in London. “Everyone has their own opinion as to what is my better work, but there are a lot of fans of the Bosnia work because it is so different from what I was doing before” he says.

The National:

Howson’s work is represented in public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinbugh. His work has been bought by celebrities including Madonna, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. “I idolised David Bowie when I was young and then all of a sudden he’s wanting to meet me. I couldn’t believe it. My younger self would have been amazed by that.”

A new retrospective exhibition coming this Spring to City Art Centre in Edinburgh will bring together 100 works spanning the entirety of Howson’s creative career, some never seen before in Scotland. It will include portrayals of human conflict and destruction, often offering a penetrating insight into the human condition.

“There will be some recent work. I think I’ve got better than I was 20 years ago. They’ve got some of the Bosnia work and some of the really old pieces, the heavy Glasgow ones.”

When the Apple Ripens: Peter Howson at 65: A Retrospective on 27th May and runs until 1st October.