Issue 206
Winter 2018/19

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Apr 18, 2019

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Watching paint dry – and sell!

IMAGINE you could see the story of a painting – from the first brush stroke right to the moment of the painting being sold.

This transformative journey has been captured by the film maker Charlie Paul and details the birth of Prophecy – the work of one of Scotland’s leading artists, Peter Howson. Premiered at the Glasgow Film festival, the film goes on general release in June.

Howson, 60, was born in London to Scottish parents and moved to Prestwick when he was three. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1975 – 1979.

Painter in action – a scene from the film

His bold figurative works hang in the collection of many public figures and celebrities from Mick Jagger, Madonna and Jack Nicholson to galleries and museums around the world from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the V & A in London.

Howson has struggled with mental illness and depression throughout his life and spent five years out of work, in and out of psychiatric wards. In an interview in 2013 he revealed he was on the same drugs as Michael Jackson was taking before he died.

“It became like I was waiting all day to take it, just waiting on this chance to go into oblivion. Then I couldn’t get off it,” he said at the time.

This new film captures his crystalline talent and passion for the canvas. He said the director had caught him at his best.

It’s not the first time Howson and his work have been on the big screen. The first was a film that was made in 1993, in Bosnia when he was the official War Artist, and then later for George Cathro’s film The Madness of Peter Howson for BBC in 2010.

The film reflects also the intense life of a painter: Howson, works long and hard, from 4am to 11pm most days.

The film allows the painting itself to be the star of the show and you see the canvas from inception as it is made and mounted on to a wooden stretcher and the struggle of its creation in Howson’s Glasgow studio.

It takes the viewer along the journey from the commercial art world, traversing the Atlantic to New York for its first public exhibition, then for the sale and its final destination, landing on the wall of a private art collector in London’s Canary Wharf.

“I think people might be surprised how physical painting is. I think people have an idea of the artist, perhaps a mystique, so hopefully this will be a revelation to them.”

It was an intense process for the duration of the filming, and the film maker was in Howson’s studio 24/7, while the painting was being created.

“It was hard, because they were animating it as well, so I had to move away from the canvas every 20 to 30 seconds, so they could take a shot of it,” he said.

“The other part was filming the brushstrokes, as well as interviews, which was very difficult as I find it hard to talk when I am working.”

The film also shows interviews with Howson’s daughter, Lucy, and the gallerist Matthew Flowers.

Director Charlie Paul studied at Byam School of Art and has made many music videos and also an award winning film on the life of the cartoonist Ralph Steadman.

On general release in June and on BBC Scotland in the autumn.


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