Peter Howson was born in Isleworth, London in 1958 . He moved to Scotland at the age of 4 and the Howson family settled in Prestwick. Howson entered his first year at Glasgow School of Art in 1975, aged 17. However in his second year, he and a friend signed up with Lothian branch of the Royal Highland Fusiliers .Howson enjoyed the contrast between the Army and his previous schooling, he liked the discipline and order in the military. Howson diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, would enjoy the routine that the army offered. However, over time, Howson realised the army life was not for him and decided to leave. As he needed income desperately and he began working in the local supermarket warehouse, followed by stints as a labourer,a landscape gardener and as nightclub bouncer.
Howson was became a central figure in what was now becoming known as the “Glasgow Boys” movement, a collection of like-minded and revolutionary painters, which also included Ken Currie. Howson finally graduated in 1981. With his work beginning to be noticed, Howson met his future agents, Angela and Matthew Flowers. They spotted his work at a 1985 exhibition, “New Image, Glasgow”, and were instantly taken by his talent. Howson collectors began to emerge, led by Madonna, David Bowie, and Bob Geldof.
Howson was offered the chance to travel to Bosnia as an official British war artist. He left Bosnia after a short stay due to ill health, which had left him needing treatment for his illness. The scenes that he witnessed also affected him with depression. However Howson returned to Bosnia, but this time in uniform with an old companion and fellow artist, sculptor Iain McColl, who went with him as his assistant. They left Britain in November 1993 and for the following month Howson endured a different and a more fulfilling experience.
In 1995, Howson moved to a new studio in the London borough of Hackney. An opportunity for stage design with the Scottish Opera in which Howson designed the set for Cox’s own production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, inspired him with all things theatrical. He began to paint a series of seven canvasses based on Stravinsky’s opera, The Rake’s Progress. The paintings follow the life of the eponymous Tom Rake as he delves into a life of sleaze, bankruptcy, and eventually, insanity. The first four pieces were a radical departure in style for Howson, as he introduced a much more vivid palette to his work. The resulting show, held at Flowers East in London, opened in January 1996 to rave reviews, both in terms of critical acclaim and the extraordinary footfall received.