Howson reveals his take on Burns

A new depiction of Robert Burns as a bloated, melancholy writer at the end of his life will be displayed at a landmark exhibition in Glasgow this year. Peter Howson’s images of Burns towards the end of his 37 years will be part of the exhibition by nearly 50 contemporary artists, each showing work inspired by the national bard, at the Mitchell Library from April to September this year.

One of the largest curated exhibitions in Glasgow’s recent history, Inspired will also feature Burns-inspired art work from Tracey Emin -believed to be a large painting – works from John Byine, Calum Colvin,Jake and Dinos Chapman, as well as many others, and is being publicised by a pop-art “Rabbie Warholâ€?image.

The exhibition, in the library’s Old Reading Hall, will be augmented by Burns relics and the Mitchell’s own Burns collection of documents, including the original manuscript of Auld Lang Syne, bought in 1998, which will be shown for the first time in Glasgow. Yesterday the exhibition was formally launched with Howson’s depictions of the bard, showing what he called the traditional “boring�image of the poet, as well as a more dishevelled look, an image of the poet in a moment of inspiration, and then towards the end of his life, sad and plagued with ill health.

Howson, who last week revealed his recent images of Jade Goody, the reality TV star, said he had been inspired by Burns�poetry his entire life as he also spent his younger years in Ayrshire. “I have never read his biographies, only his poetry, and that has given me enough of an impression of the man, and he was a complicated man; romantic, earthy, sad and indecisive,�he said. “Burns was taken away at an early age, and if he had lived longer he probably would have become the world’s greatest poet. No one has ever written with more humanity; he is so popular in Russia because he represents the people.�br />
Of his images, he said: “He has always been represented as this kind of dandy, in a Mills and Boon type of way for the side of biscuit tins, and I think in a way this exhibition is trying to rescue him from that. He was romantic, but that has nothing to do with sentimentality. “Burns died sad and lonely, and one of my pictures shows him that way: bloated and alone. But that’s the reality of what happened to him.�br />
Other images in the exhibition will include a portrait of Burns in silver leaf, installations featuring sculptures and film, and one involving a gravestone. Sheilagh Tennant, the curator of the exhibition, said: “I think this exhibition will give the opportunity to see Scotland in a new light, and an unprecedented chance to show Robert Burns�enduring appeal. “Only one of the modern works of art have been seen in public before, and only half of the relics.�br />
The exhibition will celebrate Glasgow’s part in the Homecoming Scotland festival marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759. Other items in the exhibition include a copy of Religions Essential to Man from 1761, given to James Tennant in 1786 by Burns, a letter given to John Tennant in 1788 by the Bard, and a number of other items. The exhibition, of which The Herald is media partner, will run from April 4 until September 20. The Burns collection at the Mitchell has more than 4000 items related to the famous poet, including two copies of the Kilmarnock Edition (1786), containing his first collection of poems, and two printings of the, Edinburgh and London editions (1787 ).