Tuesday 15 October 2013

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, Tate Britain

On Saturday, three generations of Joneses spent the afternoon at Tate Britain, seeing the Lowry exhibition.

I first learnt of Lowry when I was 10 years old, copying his The Street Scene for a school art competition. Despite missing two art classes and therefore not completing it, it was published in The Telegraph to advertise the competition and charity auction. We still have it framed at home today, so I guess I see Lowry's work as a happy reminder of this time.

I am aware though that L S Lowry isn't everyone's cup of tea. Some think his style is too naïve and repetitive, and that old "I could have done that" line starts to get thrown about (don't even get me started on my issues with that!). Lowry actually faced critics from the word go and, in the early days, showed more consistently in Paris than in London.

Well, this exhibition would put those people to shame. The skills shown and the variety of work really opened my eyes to just how much talent Lowry had, and how important he is to this country's history.

In the description of one of the exhibition’s first paintings, Lowry’s way of portraying people was explained. I managed to find the whole quote online:

'I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me... Natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made my figures half unreal.  Some critics have said that I turned my figures into puppets, as if my aim were to hint at the hard economic necessities that drove them. To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about the people. I did not care for them in the way a social reformer does. They are part of the private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way.'

It’s true that when you see one of Lowry’s landscapes, you really do look at everything. Yes, the people bring the scene to life, and in some cases gives you an idea of scale, but you are just as interested in the chimney tops and red-painted fronts than the crowds in front of them.

Just because Lowry paints his figures in a simple way does not mean he doesn’t give thought to them. If you look closely you can make out the moods of everyone in the painting and, as the little girl in the crowd in front of me said, “THERE ARE SOO MANY LITTLE PEOPLE!” We were looking at Going To The Match, but there are lots of wonderful examples of Lowry’s attention to detail when depicting crowds, The Park and Britain at Play, to name a few.

Lowry can also draw in detail. I loved seeing his pencil sketches, The Strike Meeting, The Auction, A Quarrel In A Side Street and Speculators; I had to look several times to check that these were actually made by him. This is one of them below; they're so rare, I can't even find them on the internet.

Many paintings steered away from the Lowry norm. Still with an emphasis on landscapes and architecture, there were gothic churches (St Augustine's Church) to recognizable London landmarks (Piccadilly Circus).

Although he openly admits to be obsessed with “poverty and doom” and “the battle of life”, it was nice to see some happier sides to his work, like the fairground scenes, or the celebrations in V E Day. Even in his most mundane works, there are often children playing, and little dogs with horse-shoe bowed legs which always make me smile. Lowry’s work isn’t big and flashy, but that’s because his world wasn’t.  If you want to see this exhibition, which I highly recommend, be quick, because it closes on the 20th.

By the way, if you're looking for somewhere to eat when going to Tate Britain, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Morpeth Arms - pork chop with mustard mash, yummy.

No comments:

Post a Comment