Rising from the post-war period, Lowry concentrated extensively on the industrialist cities of the North, which vividly depict the working class crowds. However, this strong association only relates to a portion of Lowry’s works, and being from the Manchester area myself, I was surprised to discover how uneducated I was on the full extent of his artwork. The exhibition plots the progress of Lowry’s works from the beginning of the 1920’s to the late 1940’s and certainly offers a diverse range of works, which are sure to intrigue and alter many people’s perspectives of this painter known characteristicly for his ‘street scenes’ .
If you’re a fan of Lowry’s industrial landscapes, you will find plenty on display at the exhibition to enjoy, and interestingly you can follow the development from Lowry’s initial ideas on this theme to his fully formed and most loved representations of the streets. The fascinating take on these famous images takes place in Gallery 2, where there are an abundance of pencil sketches depicting the people of the city. These figures are surprisingly detailed in comparison to what you may expect from his minute matchstick figures. Lowry focuses in upon specific city scenes, such as a police arrest and an auction, revealing identifiable characters and personalities.
The most striking and unexpected pieces by far are Lowry’s staring heads. In particular, ‘Head of a Man’ (1938), which began as a self-portrait, yet it evolved into something rather haunting and grotesque. Also ‘Self Portrait’ (1938) similarly cannot be said to fully resemble the artist either, but both are imaginative composites of various characters or features. The depiction of this portrait, illustrates insipid skin and inflamed eyes and is somewhat repulsive, yet simultaneously fascinating. Through these grotesque portraits Lowry’s inner turmoil can be inferred from the disturbing portrayal of the human form.
This inner turmoil arises from a tremendously difficult period in Lowry’s life, which led to a period of ‘artist derailment’. His father died in 1932, leaving his mother to become steadily more dependent on her son, due to her fragile and bed-ridden state. This phase in his life was particularly isolating and the loss of his mother in 1939, led to an emotional upheaval, which further dragged Lowry into a withdrawn state. His response to these events can clearly be reflected in his paintings of the time.
Not only did Lowry’s portraits reflect his emotional turmoil, but also his landscapes. ‘An Island’ (1942), at first glance replicates his earlier street scenes, but the image is distinctly devoid of the crowds and focused instead upon a derelict and decaying building, reflective of his own loneliness. Furthermore the image ‘The Lake’ (1937) is a dystopian vision of a desolated landscape of grim industry, with attention drawn to the sinking boats, and in the foreground a plethora of posts and poles, which eerily allude to gravestones.
Lowry’s alienation is also reflected in his bleak landscapes of the Lake District, Derbyshire and the Yorkshire Moors. Although these images are antithetical to the metropolis of the city, Lowry’s distinctive style is still evident in his strong linear movement across the canvas. This meditation on the countryside and also several ocean scenes show an interesting contrast to Lowry’s preoccupation with the city.
Every art lover should definitely make the effort to stroll round the gallery one lunch-time and enjoy the full extent of Lowry’s masterful contribution to twentieth century British art. It is an unmissable opportunity to view at first hand his infamous portrayal of the Northern urban landscape and gain an intimate psychological insight into this often troubled artist.
(This exhibition ends Sunday 5th February, admission is free)
Image – Coming from the Mill 1930 Oil on canvas 42 x 52 The Lowry Collection, Salford.