I had the privilege of visiting the Tate with my old boss and mentor, the renowned art dealer Martin Summers. Martin ran the Lefevre Gallery on Bruton St until it’s closure in 2001 and in his 30 years there became a close friend of L. S. Lowry, an artist they represented until his death in 1967. He even read a lesson at his funeral. I could not have had a more personal audio guide for my foray into Lowry’s world.
It would appear, from the pictures chosen for the show, that this world was a dark, dour place, where industrial Britain cast a shadow over the lives of everyone. There are few paintings where light, colour and vibrancy make an appearance and yet, I learned from my personal “audio guide”, that this was far from the case and was merely a curatorial choice. It is one that leaves you believing that Lowry must have spent much of his life downcast and that he did not have much of a sense of humour. The few pictures that fly in the face of this are the crowd scenes, of which he was particularly keen, at Daisy Nook, where a fun fair brings out colour and life unseen in the drudgery of Northern industrial working scenes.
One of the most noticable and remarkable elements of Lowry’s style is the complete absence of any shadows. For someone who religiously depicted human beings in their habitat, I began to think that it must have been a conscious choice, chewing over whether he thought that the dark, depressing surroundings ate away at ones soul, stripping you of your shadow – the only bit of you that hides until the sun is out. I then wondered if it was merely because he never paints the sun in pictures. A quick Google search when back in the office revealed the simple but rather disappointing answer: ‘You never see the sun in my work … because I can’t paint shadows. I kept trying for years’. L.S Lowry
The structure of the exhibition works brilliantly, especially to highlight the span of Lowry’s working life and to emphasise how he continually worked to hone his style and skill. When you enter the final room, filled with much bigger canvasses and confident choices of subject, you see the progress that he made throughout his life in honing his craft.
For me, the final few pictures, after he had left the north of England and travelled West to Wales, were particularly nostalgic. I had never seen them before, or even knew that he had transferred his interests to depicting the cold, hard, mining towns of South Wales and the Valleys. Like the work of Sir John “Kyffin” Williams, they capture the magic of the area, albeit in a very different way.