It's arrived. What began as merely an idea, and maybe even somewhat of an impossible one at that, has over time evolved into three incredibly striking large scale oil paintings by renowned Glasgow artist Peter Howson.. and here we are, fortunate enough to be the presence of the very first work from the "World Is On Fire" series. At 6ft tall and around 9ft wide, it’s presence in the gallery is unequivocal and as we carefully unwrap it from it’s protective layers and raise it up onto the wall, we step back just to be able to fully take it in in all it’s glory. It’s not often in life that I am left speechless... but as I stare up at such a magnificent work of art by such a master of his trade, I really am struggling to find the words.
Peter Howson is no stranger to human suffering in his lifetime – in both a personal and artistic sense. As the official War Artist for the Bosnian civil war in the early 1990’s, Howson was exposed to truly horrifying situations which he describes as “hell on earth” and images that still haunt him to this date. This experience had a profound impact on him and led to a break down in his own personal life. He says:
"The experience caused me many years of illness and the breakup of my family. I still have memories too painful to talk about, but painting these terrible events helps me to try and understand why we do such evil things to each other.”
These challenges have inspired many of his works, choosing to bring to light the devastation, instead of shy away from it. Howson’s style is often raw, confronting and evocative. It made him, without question, the ideal artist to depict the issue brought forth by the Burn’O’Bennie Distillery in Banchory.
The distillery wanted to work together with the artist in order to to help support The River Dee Trust’s #OneMillionTrees project. Research has shown that planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the current climate crisis. The intention was to highlight the true destruction humans have been causing to the planet so that we can hopefully make bigger steps changing, before it becomes too late. Peter states:
“My vision is a hopeful one and pays tribute to the young people leading the way towards saving the planet”
The first large scale work, which is now on display in our Edinburgh gallery, is an exemplary representation of Howson’s signature ‘chaotic’ style. There are twelve figures in the forefront of the scene, violently shoving each other out of the way and desperately clambering on top of one another in what seems like one final pursuit to reach any remaining fresh air. Amber flames blaze from burning fires, illuminating every muscle of their haggard bodies, as suffocating black clouds of smoke billow out from surrounding chimney’s.
It’s a world that has been ravaged by pollution and has fallen into complete anarchy.
The second in the series is the smallest of the three works and depicts a solitary figure, positioned in the center of the canvas and surrounded by the devastating results humanity has caused to the landscape. It is a piece about contemplation, a quiet moment among all the turmoil and an opportunity to reflect on the bigger issue at hand. White flags appear in various forms around the figure symbolising the desire to surrender and admit defeat but a small indication of hope transpires in the shape of a small purple flower in the bottom left hand corner.
The final painting in the collection is the most optimistic of the three and is also a stand out piece within Peter’s entire portfolio. It is so unique because where on one side we have the signature dark, vicious scene depicted in the first, to the left of the painting is an unexpected utopian landscape. Luscious green foliage, streams of crystal blue waters and enticing blue skies emerge and in the forefront of the image are two virtuous children, guiding humanity out of the industrial disaster and into this greater world.
We are so incredibly honoured to have been part of this especially rare project with one of the generation's leading figurative painters. It has truly been a joy to watch these culturally significant paintings come to fruition and to be a part of the process from start to finish. As mentioned above, the first painting in the "World Is On Fire" series is currently on display in our Hanover Street gallery and we recommend visiting us just to view it, because nothing compares and no words can truly describe the impact of seeing a large scale original Peter Howson up close.
The other two works are currently on loan with the ISA (International School Aberdeen) and have been making a huge impression on the younger generation there.
In March of this year, auctioneers Bonham's sold one of the original preliminary drawings for the final series along with a unique 30-year-old No 1 bottle of Aberfeldy whisky, with the same Howson image featuring on the label - donated by the Burn'O'Bennie distillery. This raised an impressive £7,320 to help the River Dee Trust's habitat- restoration work.
You can find more information about this project and this special whisky release on the Burn O Bennie website here
If you would like more information on the work of Peter Howson then please do contact us on 0131 285 0695. You can also view our current collection of Howson's work on our website here