Thursday, 1 November 2012

Happy Birthday

Today marks the 125th birthday of L. S. Lowry.

Lowry is one of those artists it is too easy to dismiss, as I completely had until this summer.  The popular image of matchstick men and dogs on jigsaws and mugs too easily diffuses the real artist. The curse of popularity.

I went to the aniversary exhibition at The Lowry arts centre in Salford while I was there in july. I went because I felt I should. I had seen various Lowry's in gallleries over the years and on the whole, walked past them. I dismissed him as a naive painter, like Alfred Wallis. Someone to admire the being of, but not requiring further investigation. Someone raised up by a particular time and sensibility.

Visiting the galleries in Manchester and Liverpool over the summer I saw several more, and paid my dues, and stopped for longer than I might, because he was a local artist. I was 'treading his patch'. But all those houses and factories have long been swept away and there is scant connection to make.

And then, on a trip to Tate Liverpool, it had started to rain, and I took shelter in the covered walkway on Albert Dock, And there, suddenly, in front of me, Lowry's world opened up.

The reality and presence of it struck me. THAT is what he saw, THAT is what he wanted to record.

And I went to the Lowry exhibition with unhindered eyes. And saw...

Well, someone who understood his subject, and it's needs and voids. He organizes planes and shapes with as sharp a tension as Mondrian. He looks and sees real people with as clear an eye as Henry Moore. He sits as decisively in his world as say Nash or Palmer or David Jones, artists outside the stronger currents of the flow, painting their own view.

And, since then, I 'see' 'Lowry' everywhere. In others' art, in my own, in crowds, in emptiness. Looking down, looking at. He hijacks me unawares all over the place, jumps out and says "see this, see this".

And those matchstick people are more tension points within his frame, either en masse or alone. I think you need to look past them, around them, they are not the focus the Lowry machine would have them be. They are there, because they are there, because they are there, because they are there.

So, I raise my pen to you, Mr. Lowry. And apologize for ignoring you till now.


  1. Amazingly we have one of his paintings in the gallery where I work... one of the most popular pieces that we show.

  2. Go and have a look at it today.