From Death to Life


Following a long period of illness Peter Howson’s new works for this exhibition depict his personal struggle toward recovery – a balance between darker themes and images of strength and hope. Howson endured a dark 2012 as he spent the majority of the year in various Glasgow hospitals being treated for severe depression and other ailments, before finally being discharged.

Howson said: “Now that year feels like a million years ago, like it is a lifetime ago. It feels that God was with me, even though I thought I was abandoned. It has made me stronger, to prepare for things to come, so I am a lot stronger now. Some of the exhibition is hopeful new stuff, a touch of humour. And some of it is the mad stuff from Gartnavel , with hundreds of figures. They kept telling me to go back to bed, but I would just pretend to, and carry on working.”

The new show is a mixture of his frenzied works from hospital, many of them drawn during the night, as well as pastel and larger oil works. Ann Bontke, exhibitions supervisor at the Maclaurin, said she is struck by the optimistic and hopeful nature of the new work. Howson credits the staunch support and care of his assistant, Douglas McDonald, as well as the support of Teri and his daughter Lucie as being critical in his recovery.

“I didn’t have time to do a new show with new oils, so there’s not very many oils. But what I did do is that the first time I was in Gartnavel, I did about 150 drawings, which I have managed to work on steadily. So there is mixture of the stuff I did in hospital and the brand new stuff, which is a lot more hopeful, slightly humorous maybe, and some Robert Burns imagery, mainly from Holy Willie’s Prayer, because that is my favourite. Some of the Gartnavel stuff is pretty crazy really.”

There is a painting in the show called ‘Recovery’, a muscular figure in a ripped white vest lunging forward. At once, it is looking back and striving towards the future. Howson says he is working now in the way he did then, getting up in the small hours, and working through into the evenings. “It’s a great feeling, I feel young again, fit and healthy and mentally brilliant. I just hope and pray, by the grace of God, that I keep on doing the right thing.”