Muted colours… painted straight onto canvas… sympathy and charm… (people full of movement and alive)… industrial north… idiosyncratic and individual… clerk studied art in spare time… discovered by accident in 1939 age 52.
Notes from The Art Book by Phaidon
As Lowry didn’t have to earn his living as an artist or compete in the high-powered art world he could develop a unique individual style. Presumably he had some formal art training (night school or worker education classes) but by age 52 he would have been painting for his own pleasure for a long time.
This meant he could paint the subjects around him and of interest to him. He didn’t have to pander to buyers demanding certain subjects or paint in a particular style… or justify his paintings with ideology or a connection to any art ‘movement’.
So, we have something unique… a personal style untouched by the art world inhabited by Picasso, Mondrian or Rothko and a subject matter not mitigated by rich buyers… where are the other paintings of industrial mill towns?
An artistic voice in history of the ‘loser’… an ordinary worker in a mill town did not normally have their artistic voice heard in the corridors of artistic power and status.
And yet he spoke!!!
People recognised the honesty, integrity and love with which he recorded his world and have flocked to his paintings ever since. It is also interesting to note that he has always been very popular with ordinary working people… perhaps because he gave them a voice they could recognise as their own?
What I love about this is the simplicity and yet wholeness. There are hills and streets and factories and yet remarkably little detail. Within the shapes there are solid blocks of colour – but not primary daubs… these are real dirty misty northern colours.
He has somehow captured the essence of the view.
Not realistic in any visual ‘copying reality’ sense but is wholly truthful in capturing the feel.
He uses some ‘artistic’ techniques like using the road to lead us into the painting, the factory as a focal point and mill workers in the houses. Yet this works as a complete whole.
Northern River Scene
Here the colours are slightly brighter but still muted, and it’s interesting to see that the houses aren’t yet covered in soot! The red bricks are still red!!!
It’s debatable whether this is a painting about the people going about their day with the town as a background… or a picture of the town (and canal) with added people. In truth it’s a combination of both.
You can’t uncouple the people from where they live.
It is, in a very real sense, the capturing of a world.
A Country Road
Again… very muted colours – blocks of colour (it has a slight whiff of Hopper for me?) – a road – houses – people (just to the right of the centre of the painting)…
Although it’s the country the style is very similar to his industrial paintings.
And the effect the same… it’s visually unreal but (for me) more real than the Durer or Claude Lorraine paintings. And it works as a whole.
Nothing shouts, it’s gentle, the painting is a country road!
A Street in Clitheroe
I chose this to compare with a country road as it’s an urban road.
Here, because of the closeness, the people take slight priority, they hustle and bustle and chat and walk.
But even though the people are as stylised and unreal as the buildings (in a traditional representative sense) they are more real and alive than almost any other painting I’ve seen. Freed from representitive reality he’s captured their vibrancy and humanity… it’s almost as if we’re looking ‘inside’ them as they go about their daily life.
He doesn’t feature any one individual, but has captured the community – they’re all individual but they’re all connected.
The red-painted wall is centre of the painting and stands out, but even that doesn’t unbalance the painting… it just seems a natural part of the environment.
I think what this has shown me (and I’m very guilty of this) is that landscapes can be more real even as they’re less visually accurate. In a sense you’re painting what’s inside you (and anchoring it to reality) you’re not painting visual reality itself.
As they say, there are lots of ways to skin a cat, and I’m just beginning to shed my – the more real it is the better – skin!