Demokratia – New show from Peter Howson on 17th April till 16th May at Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP
Taking place in the lead-up to the UK General Election, the exhibition is a reflection on the political and social issues of our time. In his latest series, Howson represents a nightmarish vision of a new civilization, emerging from global crisis.
The show’s title is taken from an Ancient Greek political reform system, introduced in 507 BC. Loosely translated, Demokratia means ‘rule by the people’. Epic in scale and intensity, the paintings are crowded with a large cast of barbarous characters. Portraying a breakdown of social order in which a violent underclass fights to gain control, Howson makes reference to the Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, a savage post-human species, who feast upon the passive and blindly compliant Eloi people. Reacting to the rise of extreme political factions developing across the world, Howson describes his characters as being “abandoned” by society, using violence as an antidote to boredom and hardship.
Howson’s grotesque treatment of the human form pays homage to Bosch and Brueghel. His stark portrayal of human emotions also draws upon the twentieth century influence of the German Expressionists, particularly the works of Otto Dix and Max Beckmann.
As in much of Howson’s work, intimate details of internal and familial struggles punctuate the narrative. His daughter Lucie is often represented within his paintings. Within this exhibition she is depicted thrusting a stake into the leg of a primitive, muscular ‘Colossus’ (a recurring motif and Howson’s alter-ego). The Colossus is supported by a baton entwined with a snake, a reference to an instrument of healing in the Old Testament – however here it could also be viewed as a weapon. Her actions are central to Howson’s contemporary parable, which questions the dual nature of redemption and destruction.