With one of the highlights of the art calendar drawing to its close we revisit the source of great debate, which has stretched the course of the Summer lighting up & casting cloud, seemingly dependant on your particular view.
Laurence Stephen Lowry has always proved to be a controversial figure in the art world yet few have divided opinion as strongly as him. Adored by many for his depictions of industrial Northern England, whilst treated as an outcast by the establishment who did not acknowledge artistic merit in his work.
< 'VE Day' (1945)
Lowry himself fought association with mainstream movements instead achieving a subtle satisfaction from those who struggled in their attempts to label him. An isolate figure who lived the life of an artist in contrast to his working life as a rent collector. This employment provided Lowry with access to impoverished communities, which had a profound effect upon his work.
Many of the characters he encountered during his working day found themselves captured on canvas & fondly referred to as 'Matchstick Men' due to their resemblance. He achieved a frantic energy in his work as swathes of marching caricatures continue their course whether it be to work, to a football match (Going to the Match, 1928) or the end of a school day (Coming out of School, 1927). With smoking chimneys, terraced houses & an abundance of those fighting their daily battles against the grime & grain of everyday life engaging him his entire career.
It is these characters that evoke much appeal to so many who view Lowry's work affectionately. The refusal to acknowledge the adversity, which is prevalent in many of the scenes depicted, is something that people respond to either in admiration, or loathing. A symbol of the working class community he came to portray.
'Fun Fair at Daisy Nook (1953). 'The Fever Van' (1935)
The curator's of this display have chosen to present Lowry in reference to 19th Century French artists such as Manet, Seurat, Valette & Utrillo to the bemusement of most. Lowry, although fondly regarded, is viewed as having limited artistic ability as his scenes often repeat those that went before. The repetitiveness of Lowry's compositions are clear for all to see at this exhibition. Buildings are erected with the same straight lines, which hint at no added depth other than the one dimension they offer. Displayed beside masters of this calibre can serve to question Lowry's technique & ability as an artist.
Preferring to group the works by theme as opposed to chronological order can pose a challenge to those wanting to trace the artist's progression. In addition to comparisons of the modern artists mentioned, you are led through tragedies titled 'Street Life: Incident and Accident'. It is here that you come to realise that the fascination with Lowry's work is not always with the paintings themselves, but with the stories attached. One example of this is 'The Fever Van' (1935) where an ambulance has drawn up outside a house to collect a fever patient. The painting conveys the pain and suffering of not just the victim, but of the community as a whole. This narrative provides his work with depth & stronger appeal.
It is not until the final room that a shift in scale occurs as you enter a room showcasing 7 of Lowry's later industrial panoramas, which are featured alongside each other for the very first time. These are impressive & remind us what all the excitement is about.
Lowry remains an important British artist historically as regardless of your stance on liking, or loathing, he observed & recorded the most life-changing event in the history of modern Britain, the Industrial Revolution. Similarly with Bellows & New York without Lowry we would lack an account of the industrial revolution & the impact this had on the working class. I can't help, but feel, however, that the curators may have missed an opportunity here. It remains that this long-awaited & much anticipated retrospective may have been more celebrated having been held within the former Power station, referred to as the Industrial Cathedral, otherwise known as the Tate Modern. Still, the chance to see multiple Lowry paintings stand side by side is celebration enough..... to those who delight in his work. The Curators have achieved a Summer of debate & for this we should be thankful.
Lowry and the painting of Modern Life is showing at the Tate Britain until 20th October 2013.
Adult entry - £16.50
'Old Town' (1941)
'The Cripples' (1949) 'River Scene' (Industrial Landscape) 1935
'Industrial Landscape' (Ashton-under-Lyne)’ (1952)
'Industrial Landscape' (1955)