If you take the new Metro-line tram from central Manchester out to the Salford Quays, you’ll find a regenerated waterway with smart apartment and office blocks standing where once there were factories and back-to-back housing. This was where the artist LS Lowry grew up and where we visited the latest exhibition of ‘Lowry Favourites’ , a collection of 400 Lowry pictures and drawings, at the The Lowry Arts Centre, named after Salford’s favourite son.
Lawrence Lowry set himself apart by painting not pretty pictures but the industrial landscape that he found around him in Salford. He moved to the area as a young man after the unexpected death of his father, and the financial hardship that followed. At first he hated the area, but gradually it grew on him and he earned his living there as a clerk and rent collector, an occupation that enabled him to connect with the industrial landscape and the people who lived there.
Knowing little about LS Lowry other than his well known scenes of ‘matchstick men’ against a backdrop of factories and chimneys belching smoke, I left with a better feel of the artist who was at once a simple, unassuming man who painted what he saw before him, but also a complex character whose loneliness and frustrations come through in his art.
This was the artist who lovingly nursed his mother until her death but could not match up to her ideal of what an artist should be. This was the man, who never married yet painted many pictures of a mysterious unidentified dark-haired girl called ‘Anne’ and who kept pictures of the pre-Raphaelite Rossetti heroines around his bedroom.
Lowry lived alone and saw himself as an observer, just recording what he saw, without judgement. And yet there must be something of the artist captured in those unemotional faces and figures, in small groups yet each individual set somewhat apart from the other. And then there are the featureless sea studies of the North Sea at that Lowry painted in later life, the tones of white and grey of an empty seascape. The exhibition showed us that his work over the years was about far more then the typical industrial scenes of the 30s and 40s, a Manchester of the past.
There are the early portraits drawn from his years of part-time study and life drawing classes. The striking man with red eyes started out as a normal portrait but in a fit of frustration, Lowry transformed it into an angry red-eyed figure. After watching the short film in the exhibition, I came away with the sense of Lowry as a complex man, whose continual drawing and painting covered the working people, the factory workers of Salford and the down and outs that he saw on the street with an unflinching eye, whose life was isolated by choice, but who had no pity for himself. And yet by all accounts he had a sense of mischief, enjoying a good story, and keeping a suitcase by the front door, so he could pretend he was just going away, if any unwanted fans knocked on the door.
The Lowry arts centre was built as a Millenium project on the Salford Quays area, designed by architect Michael Wilford and being made of different shapes that come together to resemble a ship when seen from a distance across the Salford Canal. When you approach it from the canalside walk from the Salford Quays metro-line stop, it is all cold steel and glass but when you enter the building it becomes full of colour. I especially loved the warm shades of red and orange and yellow in the lower corridors, which seemed a cosy contrast from the stark landscape outside.
The Lowry is a vibrant arts centre with regularly changing exhibitions, two main theatres, a studio theatre , a restaurant and terrace bar overlooking the canal and a coffee shop on the ground floor. The Lowry arts centre is family friendly, with rucksacks to borrow full of children’s activities, art trail leaflets and family talks at the weekends, and a family corner designed as an area where under 5s can play and try their hand at some drawing. The Lowry is also the guardian of the Lowry achive collection of letters, photographs and other Lowry memorabilia which can be viewed by scholars by appointment.
Once the Lowry Favourites exhibition finishes in June 2010, there will be an exhibition of Spencer Tunick, an artist best known for his installations of large groups of naked people in public settings – if you fancy standing naked on the Salford Quays as part of this project, then the gallery would love to hear from you.
The Lowry Favourites exhibition is free although a donation for the maintenance of the collection is appreciated.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ.
I travelled to Manchester as a guest of Creativetourist.com who are an Online Arts Magazine celebrating the cultural scene, museums and exhibitions of Manchester and provide free downloadable visitor guides on the latest creative happenings in Manchester.
Photo Credits: Photos of LS Lowry and his paintings are by permission of The Lowry, are copyright and may not be reproduced without their permission. Other photos are from Heather on her travels on Flickr
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