Peter Howson was born in London and moved with his family to Prestwick, Ayrshire, when Howson was aged four. He spent a short time as an infantry soldier in the Royal Highland Fusiliers but left to study at the Glasgow School of Art in 1979 where he worked alongside contemporaries such as Adrian Wiszniewski, Steven Campbell and Ken Currie, who also worked in figurative art.
His work has encompassed a number of themes. His early works are typified by very masculine working class men, most famously in The Heroic Dosser (1987). Later he was the official war artist for the Bosnian civil war in 1993. Here he produced some of his most shocking and controversial work detailing the atrocities which were taking place at the time. One painting in particular Croatian and Muslim, detailing a rape created controversy partly because of its explicit subject matter but also because Howson had painted it from the accounts of its victims rather than witnessing it firsthand. Much of his work cast stereotypes on the lower social groups; he portrayed brawls including drunken, even physically deformed men and women.
In recent years his work has exhibited a strong religious theme which some say is linked to the treatment of his alcoholism and drug addiction at the Castle Craig Hospital in Peebles in 2000, after which he converted to Christianity. Howson also has Asperger syndrome.
His work has appeared in other media, with his widest exposure arguably for a British postage stamp he did in 1998 to celebrate engineering achievements for the millennium. In addition his work has been used on album covers by Live (Throwing Copper), The Beautiful South (Quench) and Jackie Leven (Fairytales for Hardmen).
His work is exhibited in many major collections and is in the private collection of celebrities such as David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Madonna who inspired a number of paintings in 2002.
Howson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours. In November 2010 BBC Scotland aired a documentary named “The Madness of Peter Howson” which followed the final stages of the completion of a grand commission of ‘The Martyrdom of St. John Ogilvie’ for show in the renovated St Andrew’s Cathedral and also dealt with Howson’s struggle against bouts of insanity
via Peter Howson