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About A Week: Lowry

Peter Hinchliffe suggests that one of his favourite artists, L S Lowry, was not as dour and gloomy as some folk would have us believe.

Over there in Salford they seem intent on presenting the painter L S Lowry as the biggest miseryguts of the Twentieth Century. L S Laurie to his mam is of course the star at The Lowry, the fancy new arts complex at Pier 8, Salford Quays.

So he should be. He was a genius. An original. Millions of folk who aren't particularly interested in art recognise a Lowry when they see one. Before you get to see the matchstick men and women, the matchstick cats and dogs at Salford there's a 20-minute film, a potted biography of the great man, who died in 1976. There he is wearing an anonymous mac, shuffling around Manchester's grim streets.

There's that stern Victorian house at Mottram, with removal men bringing out his pictures after he had died. Much of this is presented in black and white. Then there are Lowry's own grey words, delivered in a flat Lancashire accent. "Never been married ... never been abroad ... never had a telephone ... never had a motor car ... live alone ... no family ...
I keep on working and wondering what it means and it goes on and on and there you are."

Not the least bit interested in a glossy cheerful PR image, old L S. "There's a grotesque streak in me and I can't help it," he said. "My characters? They are all people you might see in a park. They are real people, sad people. Something's gone wrong in their lives."

Then you look at the pictures mills, chimneys, viaducts, canals, thin scurrying figures. And they are not at all sad. With a touch of colour here and a dab of brightness there Lowry elevated a sordid industrial scene into a thing of memorable beauty.

Some of his paintings are full of humour. A man lying flat out on a wall for instance, an umbrella propped against the bricks. I'm inclined to think that Lowry was a leg-puller. Behind that lonely mac-clad image there was a man with a keen sense of humour who deeply enjoyed his work and knew exactly what he was about.

He loved to sit in cosy surroundings with friends in an afternoon, richly remembering bygone days. According to one of those friends, the late James L Brooke, the Huddersfield artist and art restorer, Lowry liked to tell funny stories at his own expense. Those stories often prompted fits of laughter and streaming eyes in his listeners.

Lowry was a keen follower of sport. He talked with glee of watching the cricketing giants Wilfred Rhodes and George Herbert Hirst and he could readily recite the names of the Yorkshire team or the Preston North End forward line. In his younger days he was a keen hiker. On Saturday afternoons he would walk over Standedge and then have tea in a Marsden pub. In his latter years Lowry was brought over from Mottram to visit Mr Brooke and his sister Gladys Brooke, herself an artist and picture restorer.

David Hammond, art critic for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, interviewed Gladys Brooke 10 years ago. She told him that Lowry was a man with a great sense of humour. "Once you got to know him he was very friendly and ready for a joke. He was a mild man and never unkind."

Lowry enjoyed the results of Miss Brooke's baking. "Do you think there'll be any scones today?" he would ask the friend who drove him over from Mottram.

A miseryguts? Hardly. I don't know what L S would have made of The Lowry, with its sweeping modern design. I am sure he would have been flattered at the interest in his art but there may have been a secret wry smile at the emphasis on Mr Gloom.

Lowry loved Huddersfield. Besides visiting the Brookes he often was taken to dine at The George Hotel. He painted pictures here. In the current Lowry exhibition at The Lowry celebrities choose their favourite painting by the great man. Huddersfield actor Gorden Kaye inevitably chose a painting of his own town. It's a beauty, too.

Come to think of it, Lowry's ties with my home town were so strong that we ought to have some sort of memorial to him here. Let The Lowry do the big thing but why not a Lowry "corner" in the Huddersfield Art Gallery, or maybe at Huddersfield University?

An American fan suggests that had Lowry been born in America they might even have named a state after him. Surely we can find some small space to commemorate our links with a very great artist and a man who enjoyed a good chuckle.




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