When I was at The Lowry the other day, I spent some time looking at all the Lowrys. L.S. Lowry’s work is so often seen in reproduction (in that insatiable contemporary merchandising sort of way) that it suffers from a superficial familiarity which is actually complete unfamiliarity. You think you know it. So what more can actual, real life viewing add to the work?
A lot, as it happens. One of my eternal rants about this digital age of reproduced images and virtual art tours we find ourselves in is that painting needs to be seen and actively experienced, in order to be properly viewed. A digital reproduction is an entirely different and wholly less satisfying encounter.
For one thing, in real life looking at Lowry’s work, it becomes apparent that those matchstick men are not just naively drawn little matchstick figures at all. They are cleverly observed notations of all forms and manner of daily human life; the product of many years of close observation and skilful and obsessive drawing from life. Lowry had a very keen eye for the detail of posture, and characterises the man, woman and child on the street with care and charm.
In real life, his limited palette of greys, blacks, whites and warm reds and pinks provides a strong tonal and graphic quality which reinforces some wonderful compositional work. It is a blend of the figurative and geometric abstract, and I always admire painters who can pull off that challenge.
And there were real surprises. His seascapes had a quiet grandeur I didn’t expect. The Sea from 1963 has a sense of the sublime: horizon, sky and sea in shades of uninterrupted grey.
Worth a visit, especially if you think you “know” Lowry’s work.
The Sea 1963