During the course of a year I go to see many art exhibitions of work by amateurs and also of well known artists and I think it would be fair to say that my taste is very wide ranging, and a recent visit to Tate Britain seems to illustrate this perfectly.
I have long held a quiet admiration of the work of L S Lowry (the reason for keeping it quiet is that as an artist and relatively recent Fine Art graduate from a university that promotes the very conceptual, to admit openly that I liked Lowry’s work would not have been well received. There, I am a coward!) However, I am “coming out” and admitting that “YES I DO LIKE LOWRY.” There, said it! So it was with excitement that I saw that Tate Britain were to be holding a major retrospective of Lowry’s work this summer – 26 June to 20 October 2013. I do actually think that Lowry gets a fair bit of bad press and that his art is largely misunderstood, often dismissed as childlike and a bit sentimental. the reality could not be further from the truth. Lowry simply painted the world around him in a way that was actually very contemporary for its time, his work was regularly accepted for the Paris Salon. He didn’t shy away from ‘difficult’ subjects which included eviction (The Removal, 1928), suicide (An Accident, 1926), and chronic illness (The Fever Van, 1935).
The Removal The Fever Van An Accident
Another misconception about Lowry was that he was an amateur painter, untaught with no natural ability; nothing could be further from the truth. True, Lowry did have a full time paid job as a Rent Collector, but he also had attended The Municipal College of Art in Manchester for drawing and painting classes where he studied under the French painter Adolphe Valette. At this time Lowry also attended the Impressionist exhibition in Manchester of works by Renoir, Degas, Monet, Manet and Pissarro. He later attended the Salford School of Art where he studied Life Drawing and after that was accepted into the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. The two drawings below show how good his understanding of perspective was and that he had a natural ability for observational drawing in the traditional manner.
View from the Window (Royal Technical College) 1924 and Quarrel in a Side Street 1925
One of the reasons I like Lowry so much is that his work reminds me of childhood holidays spent with my Grandmother in Farnworth (part of what is now called Greater Manchester). She lived in a red brick 2 bedroom terraced house with a front door that opened directly on to the street and a back yard at the bottom of which was the only toilet for the house and a back alley serving her street and the next one along. These were days when everyone still knew everyone else and most people still worked in the local cotton mill (which closed finally in the 1960’s). My grandmother worked there as a Cotton Ring Spinner, and both my uncle and aunt also worked there until it closed before transferring to the mill at Chadderton and later on to the Hawker Siddeley factory (later BAE). Although by the 1960’s the world was changing fast, much of the scenery in Lowry’s work is recognisable as the type of streets where my Granny lived – so very different to the fields and countryside of Dorset where I grew up.
Lancashire Fair, Good Friday, Daisy Nook 1946
Lowry was a great artist, his work deals with everyday life and is a great record of how ordinary people lived their lives in the early to mid 20th century. His election to the RA in 1962, I think is a ringing endorsement of this. Getting up close and personal with a Lowry you get to see so much more of his attention to detail, the economy of brushstrokes which describe faces in a crowd or buildings in the distance; Lowry was a painter who understood his craft and materials.
The Tate Lowry retrospective should be on any art lovers must-see list this summer. (All images are on show at the exhibition and are from the excellent and informative catalogue “Lowry and the painting of Modern Life” by T J Clarke and Anne M Wagner.