At the weekend some friends took us to the Lowry gallery at Salford Quays. Lowry’s images are so familiar, reproduced on stationery and merchandise, that the assumption is often that his paintings were all of that kind: bustling people in industrial landscapes, with a kind of naivete which has a wide appeal, such as A Procession (right). It strikes me that Lowry’s paintings seem to have become a kind of shorthand for a comfortable cosiness with industrial settings, full of people, and yet a closer look at a range of his works proves this is not at all the case.
I was particularly taken with Lowry’s pencil sketches, many of which show solitary figures, or even no figures, with a range of landscapes far beyond that which appear in his most-reproduced paintings. Drawings such as Francis Terrace, Salford (left) show few figures in a gloomy street, and is the very picture of loneliness. Though some, such as Market Scene, Northern Town show figures interacting with each other, wearing bright clothes, the majority of his works contain monochromatic figures hurrying about their business, isolated as Lowry himself was; a bitter comment on twentieth century life.
The portraits were surprising: single figures against an unobtrusive background stare accusingly, with fear apparent in their distended nostrils or reddened eyes. Others, like Courting, are slightly hilarious as well as rather uncomortable, and The Cripples – a painting in the familiar Lowry mode but with disabled and injured figures, is quite disturbing. Yet others, whilst manifesting this isolation, remain touchingly humorous, such as Man lying on a wall, depicting a chap in a suit lying down smoking, with his briefcase and brolly beside the wall (right) – definitely one of my favourites.
The portraits from the 1960s, such as Funeral party, are eerie, the figures looking like the masks of a Greek chorus, white and painted, hiding their emotions from the viewer. But perhaps the most surprising, in some ways, were the architectural views and detailed images of buildings such as Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford, in which the buildings are painted with far more love and emotion than his figures of people often are.