A Family Guide for Tate Britain's Lowry show

“Thousands of people at the LS Lowry exhibition. And that's just one painting.” Dave Cohen on twitter.

The two main comparisons I get with my work are Where's Wally? and L S Lowry. I can see why, on a superficial level, because my drawings are often teeming with figures.

Until recently I didn't really know much about Lowry. Of course his paintings are familiar as his work is deeply imbedded in our culture and his name is part of the language. However a couple of months ago I was asked to help create a family guide for the“Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life”show at Tate Britain. While I'm far from being an expert I have spent plenty of time looking at his creations and finding out more about him, and have come to respect him and his work a great deal. 

One of the criticisms that is often levelled at him is that he can't paint figures. For the illustrations I created I traced many of his figures and it made me appreciate how much skill there is in the way he depicts people. His paintings often contain innumerable figures. We perceive them as crowds but he painted each of them, imbuing them with character, movement, and despite the fact he eschewed shadows, they have a weight and poise within the landscape.

They are necessarily simple and yet when you come to copy them you see how good the underlying drawing is. Try it if you don't believe me.

The observation that my work is like Lowry's, while extremely flattering, is perhaps more acute than I'd previously understood. Specifically, Lowry worked from his imagination. He painted mostly at night, recalling scenes from his day job tramping the streets as a rent collector. But he put them together to fulfil his own vision. His pictures are full of tiny stories, hints of things, that stimulate the imagination of the viewer. This is something I strive for in my drawings and paintings and something that I now recognise in his work that I previously thought of as a sort of social realism.

Apart from this he was a much more complex man than the pat view that he was interested in showing working class life in 20th century Britain would suggest, but I'm not here to tell you about that, there's plenty of material out there if you want to find out more.

I haven't been to the exhibition yet, but I can't wait to see in the flesh these pictures that I've spent this time with.

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life - Tate Britain - 26 June – 20 October 2013


Leave a comment