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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 19:21 GMT 20:21 UK
Gallery unveils nude Madonna
Madonna portrait
The portraits are part of a new exhibition
Artist Peter Howson has unveiled his controversial nude portraits of pop icon Madonna at a small Scottish gallery.

The acclaimed painter said he thought that the pop star would be "flattered and pleased" by the paintings.

But he admitted that her husband, British film director Guy Ritchie, might be "a little annoyed" by the portrayal of his wife.

"I think he'll probably come and hit me," he said.

I believe Madonna would be both flattered and pleased that I had done this

Peter Howson
"But if he's a man of wisdom and integrity he'll be quite pleased with them, I imagine."

Howson was speaking as he unveiled his latest exhibition for the media on Wednesday.

The artist, who was brought up in Ayrshire, was offered substantial sums to open the collection in New York, Paris, Los Angeles or Italy.

But he rejected the approaches in favour of the Maclaurin Art Gallery in Ayr.

"I had one of my first exhibitions at this very gallery and I'm just thrilled they agreed to stage this here," he said.

New collection

Trustees of the gallery, which is located in a converted stable block in the grounds of Rozelle Estate, said they were "delighted" that Howson had insisted on holding the première in Scotland.

The new collection includes 10 portraits of Madonna, some of which portray her naked.

Howson said the two most controversial larger works - called Death and Madonna and Madonna 2002 - were meant to show different aspects of her life and public image.

Madonna portrait
Madonna is a fan of Howson's work
He said the collection of portraits were designed to show Madonna as a powerful and charismatic person while also touching on her religious upbringing.

The singer is an avid collector of Howson's work and has previously posed fully clothed for the artist.

However, Howson had to paint his latest works from his imagination.

The 44-year-old said he had no qualms about offending the star, who he believed was "fair game" because she was a public figure.

He first met Madonna 13 years ago and has been working on her pictures for the last decade - although he had to keep changing them due to her numerous new images.

International reputation

Howson said Madonna's staff had told him the singer was scared he would make her look ugly.

However, he admitted to being disappointed that she had not given him her reaction to the paintings.

"I believe Madonna would be both flattered and pleased that I had done this," he said.

The portraits are part of an exhibition entitled New Works, which also includes paintings based on the 11 September terror attacks on the United States.

I feel as if I've come back from the dead

Peter Howson
It will run from Sunday until 4 June before touring major galleries across the world.

Howson was born in London in 1958, but his family moved to Prestwick in Ayrshire when he was aged four.

His work first came to wider public attention in the 1980s as one of the New Glasgow Boys.

His paintings earned him an international reputation, and his collections are held in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, London's Tate Gallery and New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Artistic 'rebirth'

During the Balkans conflict he became the official British war artist.

Howson said the collection marked his rebirth as an artist and a person after a 25-year battle with alcohol and drug addiction.

"I feel as if I've come back from the dead," he said.

"I've come out of a long dark tunnel into the light and have a new found faith in Christianity which is apparent in some of this work."

BBC Scotland's Aileen Clarke reports
"This is Madonna as you won't have seen her before"
See also:

02 Apr 02 | Scotland
Gallery's coup over nude Madonna
30 Jan 02 | Showbiz
Madonna toasts star photographer
26 Feb 01 | Scotland
Madonna: Scotland was magical
12 Mar 00 | Scotland
Beautiful South legal battle settled
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