Splashed in lurid colors across a series of huge canvasses, new images of Madonna were unveiled to the world today (April 10) -- one showing the pop diva squatting naked in a graveyard and another spr

Splashed in lurid colors across a series of huge canvasses, new images of Madonna were unveiled to the world today (April 10) -- one showing the pop diva squatting naked in a graveyard and another sprawled luxuriously on a bed.

Previewing the new exhibition of his work at the McLaurin Gallery in Ayr, Scotland, celebrated artist Peter Howson said he painted the 10 nude portraits from imagination, after the singer declined to pose for him. And although he said he was sure the paintings would "flatter and please" the subject, Howson said he was less confident about the reaction of Madonna's husband, British film director Guy Ritchie, who reportedly barred her from posing naked for the paintings.

"I think he'll probably come and hit me. But if he's a man of wisdom and integrity he'll be quite pleased with them, I imagine," he said.

Howson, whose work is displayed in museums around the world and has been bought by stars including David Bowie, Sylvester Stallone, and Madonna herself, said the new portraits showed the queen of pop as a powerful and charismatic person and touched on her religious upbringing. But the images also explored a darker side to the famous singer, beyond her public image as a performer and mother, he said.

One six foot by four foot canvas, titled "Madonna 2002," depicts the star reclining on a sumptuous bed. Her limbs are twisted and distorted, her oversized hands rest on powerful thighs and her haunting eyes stare into the distance. Religious symbols, representing Mary, the mother of Jesus; the head of John the Baptist; Eve; and a tree of knowledge litter the crumpled sheets.

Another canvas, "Death on Madonna," is a more stylized image of the singer, crouching on mighty haunches in a graveyard, with her head thrown back. Her rippling, taut physique, painted in bright yellow, dominates the scene and dwarfs a gravestone in the background.

Howson, 44, rose to prominence in the 1980s as one of the so-called New Glasgow Boys, a group of painters who depicted the gritty, harsh reality of poverty and violence in the industrial Scottish city. His works hang in the Tate and National Portrait Gallery in London, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo.

Howson said he had met with Madonna on several occasions, since they first met in the United States 13 years ago. He said he'd been working on the paintings for 10 years and repeatedly had to alter his approach as the singer's image and style shifted. "I knew she'd have changed again by the time they went on show," he said.

The singer, who appeared naked in her own book "Sex" and has often cavorted on stage in revealing costumes, declined to pose for the series of paintings. According to her staff, Howson said, she was scared he would make her look ugly. Reports in the British media also said Ritchie had forbidden her to pose naked for the paintings.

The artist said he had sent Madonna photos of the paintings several weeks ago, and was disappointed he had not heard from her. Madonna's spokesperson in London declined to comment on the exhibition and did not know whether the star had seen the paintings.


AP LogoCopyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.