Tag: Lakeside Arts

Desolation Row: Lowry’s exploration of modern anxiety at Djanogly Art Gallery

L. S. Lowry said that the Great Depression passed him by. It might seem like an unusual statement given that, like George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, he depicted the unemployed and the over-worked in the north of England. But unlike Orwell, he was not politically or ideologically motivated. Instead, his figures become part of the industrial wastelands alongside the derelict buildings, abandoned boats and thick, black smog.

Earlier this month, a wonderfully curated exhibition of Lowry’s work opened at Nottingham’s Djanogly Art Gallery. Here his Lancashire mill scenes sit alongside some of his lesser known rural landscapes which became increasingly stark and devoid of detail.

Although his images are steeped in the everyday there is also something unsettling about them. Like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland and James Joyce in Ulysses, Lowry does not subscribe to a straightforward social realism but instead explores the existential anxiety of modern life. Personal identity is lost in the crushing machine of industrialisation; people are forced to work long hours and they become disconnected from their families and themselves, as shown in the family scene of Discord (1943).

Lowry painted a number of startling portraits, including Head of a Man (1938), Boy in a Yellow Jacket (1935) and The Manchester Man (1935-6). The red, staring eyes, hollow expressions and skin ravaged by harsh weather, factory chemicals and poor diet reveal the soul-sapping nature of the industrial age and force us to confront the human cost of modernity head on. Contrast these pictures with the pencil sketches A Meeting (1923) and Speculators (1924) which depict middle class professionals sitting in their comfortable offices smoking, drinking coffee and using their minds rather than being physically exhausted by the drudgery of hard labour.

He also produced a number of desolate landscapes, both urban and rural. Some, such as Wasteland (1935), show the spoils of industrialisation at a time when Lancashire’s cotton industry was in decline and these too echo Eliot’s poem. Many resemble a battlefield from the First World War, perhaps anticipating that another war was not far off. The figures of his earlier paintings are notably absent and the once-thriving mills are abandoned although thick, putrid smoke continues to belch out of the chimneys in the distance indicating a legacy of destruction.

Even more stark are Lowry’s paintings of the lakes, seashores and rural landscapes of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District which are largely free of human activity and the antithesis of the pastoral idyll. As in the city, there is nothing comforting here; the land is oddly life-less, almost lunar and detached from any real sense of location, hinting at perplexing metaphysical questions about time.

The exhibition continues at Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre (University of Nottingham campus) until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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A new perspective at Lakeside’s Djanogly Art Gallery: There’s more to Lowry than pictures of matchstick men

Salford’s MediaCity is the new home of the BBC and, with its futuristic glass buildings and sleek architectural design, it is a world away from the industrial landscapes depicted by L. S. Lowry.

The towering factory chimneys have now been replaced by huge office buildings, miserable-looking people have been replaced by creative types and the city is lit up rather than bathed in a stagnant smog.

Lowry’s world is preserved at the excellent Lowry Arts Centre at Salford Quays and public interest in his work has not diminished over the years; his depictions of communities and places of work hark back to Britain’s industrial past, which for better or worse, is fast becoming a distant memory.

This autumn, Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre will be hosting a new exhibition of Lowry’s work, from the industrial landscapes of the 1920s to some of his lesser known works when he became interested in representations of figure groups and individual figure painting. Known for his representation of concrete subject matters, this exhibition, which opens on 16th November, is also an exploration of the abstract.

The 1930s proved to be a dark time for Lowry: he had lost both of his parents and was experiencing a growing sense of isolation. It led to him producing an extraordinary series of paintings which also reflect the sense of national foreboding about the impending war. In contrast to the busy street scenes of his earlier paintings, the ones from this era contain scenes of empty, industrial wastelands and portraits of blank, ravaged faces.

By the time the war ended, Lowry was no longer required to look after his invalid mother and began travelling around the UK. The result was pictures of the wild landscapes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Moors and Derbyshire, along with a series of sea paintings. Alongside the impressive paintings, this collection also includes a number of pencil drawings, from rudimentary sketches on the back of an old envelope to sophisticated drafts for his paintings.

Entry to Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham runs until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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