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!

L.S. Lowry, 'Coming Out of School' 1927

L.S. Lowry
Coming Out of School 1927
Oil on wood
support: 347 x 539 mm frame: 631 x 441 x 45 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Duveen Paintings Fund 1949© The estate of L.S. Lowry

View the main page for this artwork

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.  

Assistant Curator of Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life Helen Little at Tate Britain

Helen Little, Assistant Curator of Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, in the exhibition at Tate Britain

Photo: Samuel Drake for Tate Photography

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.

Comments

My first memory of Lowry dates back to 2002 when I was researching naive artists of the 20th c. Lowry struck me as not being naive at all, but on the contrary as a very calculating artist. So, I thought, there must be some idea behind this calculated approach to painting. It took me a lot of thinking and watching Lowry to finally understand what it was. This is why this exhibition disappointed me, for I believe it hits all the wrong spots. Nonetheless, I will be visiting it again a few times, before it is over.

Thank you for telling us about your visit to the Lowry exhibition. Really happy to hear that you and your children enjoyed it so much.

My first memory of Lowry was when I had to learn how to play Matchstick Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs on the flute. My flute teacher showed me some Lowry pictures and I remember thinking they were absolutely fantastic.

My kids were introduced to him by the book 13 British Artists Children Should Know. We all came to the exhibition on Wednesday and thought it was fantastic. I was particularly grateful for the children's sheet, which they really enjoyed completing. I was a bit worried about shelling out for my ticket, thinking that the children wouldn't enjoy the exhibition, but am now considering joining as a member so that I can bring them to more exhibitions at the galleries.

Enjoyed the Exhibition a lot. Very nicely lit and presented with interesting audio comments.. Gave me a new insight on his pictures and the message they brought where previously I had liked them because there is so much to look at.. Thankyou for putting this on.

Great to hear that you enjoyed the Lowry Exhibition, thanks so much for letting us know your views.