If you are of a certain age, you will remember two men in cloth caps singing about LS Lowry in Mancunian accents and, if like me, they scared the life out of you, you would probably have taken a long time to look at a Lowry painting up close!
Having visited the Lowry Centre in Manchester and the Major and Lowry exhibition in Southport, I decided to give this monograph by Michael Howard a go. Howard gives an excellent account of Lowry’s life alongside his art. Each chapter covers a different aspect of Lowry’s work and when you see how he moves through the human experience in a way that resonates with some aspect of everyone’s life, you realise that there is more to Lowry than you might think. Howard begins by saying that Lowry’s works “confirm an understanding of the essential, inescapable and solitary reality of human experience.” Chapter headings such as ‘The Battle of Life’, ‘The Outcasts’ and ‘The Lonely Landscape’ reflect the melancholy that surrounds so much of Lowry’s work.
Lowry is most famous for a romantised view of the mill towns and industrial landscapes of Manchester and the surrounding areas, but if you explore a little deeper, you can see that there is more to this man than you think. Howard’s book has certainly given me a greater appreciation of Lowry’s works than I had previously held.
His insight into the lives of the people of Lancashire was perceptive. This 1936 oil, Short Time, Family Discord, is a particularly striking one in terms of revealing the social context of the times. This is not a warm family environment; the tension is almost palpable. The father sits at the table in his customary place as head of the household but you start to ask questions as to why he is there at that time of day. With unemployment increasing at this time, it is likely that he is out of work; his role as the breadwinner is seriously underthreat. His wife sits with him but there is no food on the table. The two younger children gather round, oblivious to his failings, but his eldest son has turned his back and is facing the viewer with a defiant look on his face. There is no glow from the fire and the family are keeping warm as best they can. Just for a fraction of time, we are completely aware of this family and their misery.
I would thoroughly recommend this book. Michael Howard guides the reader around the works, never dictating what you should read into them, but he blends Lowry’s own words into the analysis of the paintings.