Tuesday, 9 July 2013

"It's grim up north!"

The new blockbuster exhibition at Tate Britain explores the work of an artist who is probably most famous for painting the working classes in the industrial north of England. LS (Laurence Stephen) Lowry depicted people going about there daily lives in Manchester and Salford where he was born. He perfectly captures the repetitive drudgery of people, heads down, making their way to or from the mills or factories where they work. The extremely tough living and working conditions of these people is also reflected in the dark, smoky and grimy canvases.

The exhibition is entitled Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, but whatever the people in his scenes are doing it seems to me they just precede modern life and modernity. These lives are the remnants of the industrial revolution, then pre-war and post-war poverty and destitution, before the trappings of modern life. Perhaps modern life as we now know it began during the industrial revolution, as did modern art arguably, but anyway Lowry depicts the day-to-day 'battle of life'.

In life its often many moments outside of many of our daily working routines that stand out. For me, this is inadvertently the case with this exhibition. With so many dark, brooding scenes of peoples place of work, its the depictions of their leisure time that stand out...

Lancashire Fair, Good Friday, Daisy Nook (1946), (oil on canvas)
This is the case with Lancashire Fair, Good Friday, Daisy Nook (above) and Going to the Match (below) both in Room 1.


Going to the Match (1958), (oil on canvas)
Then there's Bandstand, Peel Park in Room 2...
Bandstand, Peel Park (1928)

St. Augustines Church, Pendlebury (1924), (oil on panel)
There's such a contrast between these these two paintings that are hung opposite each other also in Room 2. The dark and brooding early work St. Augustines Church, Pendlebury (above) and the surprisingly light Piccadilly Circus, London (below) from late in Lowry's career.


Piccadilly Circus, London (1960) (oil on canvas)

Blitzed Site (1942)
After the street life of Room 3, in the next room there are bleak cityscapes of a different kind in Blitzed Site (above) and The Lake (below).

The Lake (1937), (oil on canvas)
A rare moment of celebration in VE Day (below)...

VE Day (1945), (oil on canvas)
Ancoats Hospital Outpatients Hall (1952)
Perhaps Ancoats Hospital Outpatients Hall (above) and The Cripples (below), also in Room 5, consist of more Lowry-esque subject matters!

The Cripples (1949), (oil on canvas)

Fun Fair at Daisy Nook (1953), (oil on canvas)
Having said that, the show returns to the Fun Fair at Daisy Nook (above) and The Park (below).

The Park (1946), (oil on canvas)

Ebbw Vale (1960), (oil on canvas)

The exhibition ends with a room that includes some of Lowry's largest canvases, my favourites of which are Ebbw Vale (above) and Hillside in Wales (below). They depict scenes in South Wales, where Lowry also painted. I like the hazy and ethereal back/mid-ground sections in both The Park and Ebbw Vale. I prefer the way these details disappear in the distance to the child-like details in the foreground of some of his work.

Hillside in Wales (1962)