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The last suppers

I told you a few days ago about going to visit a Peter Howson retrospective. While I was there, I saw his 2006 painting of The Last Supper.

While waiting for my train home, I popped into the National Gallery and happened upon Nicolas Poussin’s 1694 painting of (essentially) the same scene, The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Generally, I prefer more abstract paintings to ones with photo-like realism, but this pairing disproves that rule.

The Howson painting is clearly more abstract, yet I prefer the Poussin. I particularly like Poussin’s use of symbolic light. I also think the composition is clever: unlike most representations of the Last Supper, Poussin has shown the disciples seated around a table. Poussin’s disciples all seem to me to have their own personalities, whereas Howson’s seem more like an indistinct group.

I’ve probably seen more exhibitions this year than in the rest of my life combined, so it’s perhaps not surprising that some of my preconceptions are being challenged—but it nevertheless feels arresting to me!

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

I’ve been to see ‘When the Apple Ripens’

I don’t proclaim to be an art expert, or even a knowledgable amateur. Prior to visiting this major retrospective exhibition, despite his fame and acclamation, I couldn’t say I knew who Peter Howson was.

Born in London, Howson spent his formative years in Ayrshire before venturing off to study at the Glasgow School of Art. Today, he is a highly celebrated figurative artist.

During the early 1990s, he took on the role of the official ‘British war artist’ for the conflict in Bosnia, an experience that left a profound imprint on his mental and emotional wellbeing. A decade later, he found comfort in Christianity, a shift that brought a religious focus to his work. In recent years, he has crafted artistic responses to Brexit, the pandemic, and various other contemporary events.

Admittedly, Howson’s figurative and almost cartoonish style doesn’t particularly resonate with me. However, in a three-floor mega-exhibition, there are bound to be a few stand-out pieces. Below, I’ve highlighted three artworks that captivated me more than the rest.

This is My Tale Shall Be Told, a 1995 work which is apparently based on William Hogarth’s 1730s series A Rake’s Progress. I’m not familiar enough with art history to appreciate that.

I liked this because of the surrealism and the bold colours. I liked that the girl in the background had a Munch-like scream at the scene of the bearded lady inexplicably attempting to ride a dog. I like the way that the child in the foreground is contorted in a way which looks natural at first glance, but impossible on a closer inspection. The recognisable inclusion of the ‘fat controller’ gave this a grounding in the real world.

I especially enjoyed the way that the paintbrushes were left colourless in such a colourful scene.

This is a 1994 piece from Bosnia, called Serb with Child. I was struck by the abstract nature of this piece, which isn’t typical for Howson. I thought it said something about the way that the anger and violence were more prominent for him than the specifics of the awful situation.

From the same period, this is House Warming. Here, the contrast between the horrific, violent events in the foreground and the everyday scene in the top-left of the canvas is striking.

This helped to bring home to me the reality of living in a war zone. The contrast between everyday life and the battle surrounding it has been much-observed in the current conflict in Ukraine. But, as only art can, I think this representation made me ponder the reality of living through a situation like that.

I also thought that the juxtaposition said something about how close we all are to violent conflict: it seemed like it was commenting on the fragility of society, and how easily any society can tip over into unrecognisable violence.

When the Apple Ripens: Peter Howson at 65 continues at the City Art Centre until 1 October.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , .

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