Not so grim up north?

Abbot Hall recently acquired two late LS Lowry paintings on long term loan. Inspired by this they have created a small exhibition of paintings by northern artists from their collection shown together with the new Lowry paintings. There are works by William Bell, Jack Simcock, Percy Kelly and Lowry himself.

Although the exhibition is titled “Not so grim up north”, I’m not so sure that the moody, melancholic paintings they’ve included dispel the image of a dark, grey, gloomy landscape.

The two Lowry loan pictures were interesting. Neither conform to the stereotype of industrial landscapes peopled by “matchstick men”. One of them, Man Waiting, painted in 1964, portrays a monochrome single figure  in the bottom right of what is otherwise almost a blank canvas. He is wearing a bowler hat and carrying a brolly – more of a city gent than a factory worker. A simple, but effective depiction of the figure, almost, but not quite, a silhouette.

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To me, he comes across as a lonely individual. I don’t know whether that is what Lowry intended. Who is he waiting for?

The other picture was much more disturbing. A rear view of a man in a hat and coat with arms raised surrounded by three children with a group of children, sketchily portrayed, in the background. It’s viewed through a doorway. One of the children, a girl, in the foreground is looking at the man. Another girl looks away. Is he waving or doing something more sinister?

Or is he the evil Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

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The boy in the foreground looking out at the viewer is very scary. With his hunched shoulders, a white face, sunken eyes and open mouth, his expression and posture makes him look like a zombie. Very disturbing indeed. I’ve seen some scary kids in Salford but nothing quite like this.

There was a dark side to Lowry. He was

a far more complex character, one prone to depression and loneliness and darker sexual urges that some viewers may feel fit oddly with his much-loved image (Mark Brown in the Guardian)

It’s definitely demonstrated in this painting.

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One thought on “Not so grim up north?

  1. Thanks for linking that Guardian article. I know nothing of Lowry beyond his matchstick men so it’s always interesting to get a deeper sense of a character.

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