by Jim McLean / Scotland On Sunday
22nd February 1998
THE most glamorous of the latter-day Glasgow Boys, artist Peter Howson, has shaken off a six-figure overdraft and re-established himself as the darling of the world’s celebrity circuit.
The artist whom many feared was becoming one of his own characters – a hard-up but noble dosser – has just finished a portrait of rock superstar David Bowie and will soon paint another rock legend – Madonna – who will pose for him after his next Los Angeles show in the summer.
Bowie agreed to a sitting after buying the controversial rape painting Croatian and Muslim, inspired by Howson’s nightmare experiences as the Imperial War Museum’s official war artist in Bosnia in 1993.
He returned to Britain suffering from exhaustion and dysentery, haunted by his personal involvement in the horrors of war around Vitez, to produce what many consider to be some of his best work but to the detriment of his own psychological health.
His marriage suffered and for the past four and a half years he has lived in self-imposed exile in London.
Howson admits he does not like thinking about money, although his paintings routinely sell for thousands. He confesses that he was recently in dire financial straits having run up an overdraft of around 150,000 pounds.
With major canvases selling at more than £30,000, like his oil painting The Glorious Game unveiled last week in the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) in Glasgow, Howson can always depend on being able to paint his way out of trouble.
He is also in the frame for a £100,000 commission from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to paint Donald Dewar and other members of the cabinet.
Howson has agreed with David Bowie that there will be no pre-publicity of the portrait before its unveiling. But Howson’s Scottish agent Roger Billcliffe recently sold a pastel and ink study of the portrait to an Edinburgh man, who wishes to keep the price and his identity anonymous.
“Bowie being Bowie, he wanted it all to be completely hush-hush,” said Howson.
“We have had about six sittings together and each of them was a bit cloak and dagger. One time he turned up early in the morning at the studio but was recognised by some schoolkids who saw him getting out of a car. Before long there were hundreds of kids surrounding the place.
“I am trying to organise the Madonna thing at present. I hear she is wanting painting lessons so that could be part of the package. She said recently I was her favourite artist and that gave me a big buzz.”
Bowie will be invited back into the studio for one last sitting to finish the portrait.
The multi-millionaire, famous for painting his own face during his Aladdin Sane period in the early Seventies, may add the work to his own collection which has veered recently from the figurative to more surreal works by another big contemporary name, Damien Hirst.