Peter Howson - Andrew: Portrait of a Saint

this work will prove popular but ultimately unsatisfying

Article by Jay Shukla | 11 Jan 2007
Comprised of dozens upon dozens of sketches and studies, with its centrepiece being the gargantuan oil painting entitled 'The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew' – this show is a whole lot of Howson. But even ardent admirers of his work are likely to find the entrées a lot more appetizing than the main course. Howson's religious zeal is obvious, and his work ethic should be applauded, yet this show proves that Howson's talent as a painter remains in a stubborn stasis; his familiar, mannered technique as unsubtle and bludgeoning as ever. The central painting is classic Howson: an over-egged melodrama of deep shadow and cartoonish expression – as though Caravaggio had been employed by the Disney company. The colours, miraculously, are simultaneously both drab and garish, the wide-eyed participants pinned down in unnatural position by the artist's thick outlines. What makes the painting all the more disappointing is the promise which is shown in the drawings. It's no coincidence that the two best works are the ones which look like they have been executed most quickly. Clearly Howson is not able to transfer his easy, confident draughtsmanship into the medium of paint, instead opting to render each line with the same weight. As thick as treacle, and just as cloying, this work will prove popular but ultimately unsatisfying. [Jay Shukla]
City Art Centre, Edinburgh until 4 March. Free.