This week in our Lowry series, Assistant Curator Helen Little discusses why the artist is waiting to be rediscovered and shares her first memory of him. She wants to hear yours, too!
My first encounter with Lowry was on a school trip to the Tate Gallery. Having travelled from my home town in North Yorkshire I found it intriguing to come across a picture of an industrial town that spoke about a mythology of northern Englishness. How fitting that the Lowry I saw was his own impression of a school he came across on one of his regular walks around Salford. I now also look at this picture as an important example of how Lowry broke from conventions in English landscape painting to engage with the structure of the city, grappling with how bodies and buildings fit together to form the urban world.
In the time I have been organising Tate Britain’s exhibition I’ve heard many stories of when people first encountered Lowry. So, now I’ve shared my story, I’d like to know, what’s your first memory of Lowry?
His unique visions of modern life continue to draw out quite different responses and memories, as British painter George Shaw sums up:
I grew up with reproductions of Lowry’s paintings. Together with the telly they framed our living room life. His pictures were not the world I knew. I’m not too sure it was the world my dad knew even though he was brought up in the North West during and after the war. Like the films of the kitchen sink sixties these images of working class life parked themselves in my eighties adolescence not as documentation but as visionary mythology. Lowry soaked up the world and squeezed it out in the shape of his own imagination.
In his lifetime Lowry captured the national imagination and during the post war era he became the dominant figure of British art. At the heart of his significance lies his extraordinary vision of industrial life – sometimes with wit, others with indifference or pathos – but with a vocabulary that continually adapted to deal with the world around him. It is a comforting fiction that Lowry’s art shows us a thing of the past but Lowry was not just a unique witness. His world is not simply about memory but speaks to life in post-industrial Britain and other places today. On that basis, Lowry is waiting to be rediscovered.