Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The World of L.S. Lowry

Caroline went to Salford: this is what she saw there.
L.S.Lowry: Self-portrait
Think of Manchester, and you think of football, and factories. In fact, there is a thriving arts and cultural scene in Manchester, and echoing a global trend in docklands redevelopment there has been the recent construction of a major arts and entertainment complex in Salford Quays.
The complex, located in an area long considered one of the bleakest in Manchester, has been named the Lowry Centre, after one of Salford’s favourite sons, the artist Laurence Stephen (LS) Lowry. As well as theatres, concert halls and restaurants, the Lowry Centre Art Gallery is home to an excellent collection of local and contemporary art including a comprehensive permanent collection of paintings by LS Lowry.
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Lowry until moving to Manchester, where he is very well known as one of their most famous local artists. My friend Gordon had been a fan of his work for some time, and when he came up north to visit me, he insisted we take a trip to the Lowry Gallery.
Matchstick men!” Gordon kept singing from the back of the minicab all the way to Salford Quays, “...and matchstick cats and dogs!”  – this had been a hit song by the duo Brian Burke and Michael Colman, commemorating the style of LS Lowry after his death in the late 1970s.
Life in Salford: football and factories 
Lowry was born in 1887 and was a prolific painter of life in Salford all his adult life.  Lowry’s interest in the urban and industrial landscape captured something quite unique. His signature “matchstick men” (marching to work in the factory, or gathered at the football ground) are indeed simplistic but in their sheer numbers make up a crowd heaving with life and movement.
One of his most famous paintings, Going to The Match, sold for 1.9 million pounds.
Going To The Match
What I found quite amazing was the way in which Lowry’s paintings of crowds or busy streets appear to give you a distance and vantage point that Lowry could never have had except for in his imagination.
Lowry’s father had emigrated from Ireland, and as a young man, Lowry worked as a clerk with a firm of accountants while attending the Municipal College of Art. He lived with his parents, and was to continue doing so for nearly forty years until the death of his mother.
Despite painting in Manchester almost exclusively, Lowry was a much celebrated British artist during his lifetime and received numerous honours (including election to the Royal Academy) for his contribution to recording of life in the industrial northwest of England. 
Lowry’s work is incredibly evocative of working class life in the industrial northwest, and the Lowry Centre Gallery strives to show this, with big windows all through the complex that look out onto chimneystacks and grey brick buildings that inevitably mirror an equally grey sky. All around you is Lowryland.

Although best known for Salford scenes of life and labour under dreary skies, I was also impressed by Lowry’s portraiture. He painted his subjects with a warmth that is obvious. There are many portraits that feature the recognisable face of a certain woman. As Lowry was never married, her identity is something of mystery – some suggest she was his mother (there have also been suggestions of an Oedipal obsession). Others suggest she was Carol-Ann Lowry, a girl who had written to him, excited when she found out she shared a name with a famous artist. They remained friends for years, and when Lowry died, he left his estate to her.
One of the paintings I liked the most was one called “The Bedroom”, painted at the his parents’ house where Lowry lived almost all his life, and for much of that with his bed ridden mother. The painting reminds me so much of that famous painting of Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles. The surroundings are simple, functional, sufficient – the unadorned surroundings of a man who lived alone after his mother’s death and dedicated himself to his art.
In retrospect, the work of LS Lowry is a record of the end of the industrial revolution in Britain, as well as a record of the living spirit of Manchester: factories, and football and a rich cultural life.
The Lowry Centre is well worth a visit, and you can read more about it as well as more about the life of LS Lowry here http://www.thelowry.com/  

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