I went to Tate Britain last Saturday. The sky outside was grey, with occasional downpours causing a flurry of crooked umbrellas to open out. Inside the Lowry exhibition, the vibe was much the same: grey, drab and – frankly – miserable.
The debt collector-cum-artist produced paintings depicting the industrial districts of his native north west England. I love them for their bleakness – they present life as Lowry saw it: people milling about in woolen coats, being evicted from their homes, attending football matches in rammed stadiums. With never a peep from the sun.
There’s an underlying desperation in his work and you long for the subjects to find a way out of their seemingly miserable existences. But they seem nonchalant – they’re just getting on with it. No biggy. And so they never do find a way out. And neither does he. Because that’s just what life was like, at that time, for those people. And for him.
That’s why although I love Lowry’s paintings, an entire exhibition of his city-scapes becomes a little dreary. There’s no hope. In fact, it feels as if it’s been curated to become increasingly hopeless as you walk through the exhibition, with one of the last pieces: The Cripples, making you wonder whether Lowry just had a rather warped, pessimistic stance on people and suffering…
A Market Place, Berwick-upon-Tweed:
Ancoats Hospital Outpatients’ Hall 1952
The one above, my mum told me, is reminiscent of the hospitals she used to visit as a child – in the 50s. So perhaps life just really was devoid of colour back then? Until the 60s when everything became multicoloured.
Talking of multicoloured – I also went to see Patrick Caulfield’s exhibition at Tate Britian: a much-needed splash of colour before I went back out into the dark, stormy afternoon.
Some of his work…
Café Interior: Afternoon 1973
Portrait of Juan Gris 1963
A good note to end on.