‘I’ve finally beaten my demons’, says Peter Howson

Artist Peter Howson paints Richard DeMarco at the world premiere of a 20min film Berkoff, Art & Peter Howson at Summerhall. Picture: TSPL
Artist Peter Howson paints Richard DeMarco at the world premiere of a 20min film Berkoff, Art & Peter Howson at Summerhall. Picture: TSPL
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PETER HOWSON, one of Scotland’s most successful artists, says he has fully recovered from a six-year battle with depression and is now working on his biggest-ever commission.

The 56-year-old has revealed he is creating 36 religious paintings for a millionaire Scottish lawyer based in the Cayman Islands.

Peter Howson. Picture: Robert Perry

Peter Howson. Picture: Robert Perry

He told The Scotsman that Alan Turner, who heads up a Cayman Islands legal firm, was planning to build his own gallery to display the vast works.

The artist, whose work has been bought by the likes of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson and Madonna, has had well-publicised financial problems during a period of illness, which forced him to sell much of his own private collection.

Howson, who has previously also had drug and alcohol problems, said each of the paintings was costing the private collector around £100,000.

Howson, whose work has sold at auction for up to £300,000 in the past, said he had completed several of them in recent months after ending treatment for his medical condition.

The Ayrshire artist, who was making a rare public appearance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe yesterday, revealed he could not remember creating the work he had produced while he was undergoing psychiatric treatment over the past six years.

He was speaking at the Summerhall arts centre, where he appeared “in conversation” with veteran Edinburgh Festival impresario Richard Demarco, painting a new portrait of the 84-year-old during the event, in less than an hour.

The 56-year-old, who cited Dante, Goya and Michelangelo as his major inspirations, also spoke of his dismay at the quality of work being produced by current artists.

He said: “I’ve not been too involved in the art world at all. But I am now doing a big commission for a collector abroad – it’s 36 massive biblical paintings. I’ve done six already, but I don’t really remember doing them.

“I’ve been ill for such a long time, around six years ago now, and I only really got myself better a few months ago. I love my work. When I am not working, I get up to mischief.”

He later told The Scotsman: “The guy who has commissioned the paintings is actually a Scot who runs a big legal firm. The great thing is he is a born-again Christian, so he really knows the Bible.”

Howson, who came to prominence after the Imperial War Museum commissioned him to be a war artist in Bosnia in 1993, has become world-renowned for his striking work tackling themes of religion and war. He told the audience at Summerhall of his dismay at the “horror, death and destruction” claiming the lives of British soldiers in modern conflicts.

He added: “The big problem today is that we don’t have that many artists that I would call great. As a society we are becoming more and more decadent. Western civilisation is in trouble and unless we can do something about it, we are going to collapse at some point.

“From what I see on my travels, all the great painters are coming from the Middle East and the Far East. We just cannot paint or draw any more – that’s it in a nutshell.”

Howson, who was born in London but brought up in Prestwick from the age of three, said he saw himself as more Scottish than English.

But he added: “I definitely see myself as Scottish and northern European, but I’m not really patriotic. I don’t really see myself as being any one religion or anything like that.

“I see myself as a Christian, but I still want to encompass everyone. I hate to be narrow about these things and I love people on the edge.”