Thursday, 3 October 2013

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life at Tate Britain - Art Review

I guess I've always had a soft spot for Lowry, and yes, it's sad to admit it (and here goes any hope of credibility as an art critic) but it goes back to Brian and Michael's number one hit of 1978. Like the popular song, Lowry's work somehow captures a bygone world. 
Sitting as a distant but interested observer, Lowry presents the viewer with images that capture the rhythms of life of his native Salford. The mills may be the perennial backdrop, but Lowry primarily is concerned with people and the impact that industrialisation is having on them. There is something fundamentally human about Lowry's work - he is fascinated by crowds and the congregation of people.  He may abbreviate the human figure into "matchstick men" but he never dehumanises them. Even in crowd scenes, we can discern the gender and age of the individual; all brought to life in a few economic brush-strokes. 
Lowry's portrayal is neither romantic or nostalgic and does not shy away from portraying a polluted and desolate industrial wasteland (River Scene, 1935) or the broken bodies that inhabited it (e.g. The Cripples 1949). 
The Exhibition 
Given that Salford Quays now houses an extensive permanent collection at the iconic building named after the artist, one would be forgiven for questioning the need for a major retrospective in the capital at all. Perhaps it was some sort of cultural exchange to compensate for so much of the BBC moving north!). However, this exhibition is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest British artists of the Twentieth Century. Lowry presents a challenge to curators in that there is relatively little progression and development in his work. I am not convinced by the view (expressed on the excellent audio guide) that his work was generally more optimistic in the post-war period. At times he seems to be reinforcing the Private Eye mantra that "It's grim up North" and this can be extended to his Welsh canvasses "It's grim in Wales, too!"
Just for fun

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