The Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain is an exhibition of contradictions. An impressionist known for his lines and angles, the pops of colour beside monotone buildings, the rent-collector that moonlights as a painter, a landscape-ist obsessed with industrialization, political artwork about poverty and gloom, somehow filled with life and movement. Even the crowd reflected this in-congruence: a working class painter in the elite-est of institutions, admired by the posh-est crowd of any London exhibit I’ve been to.
Lowry’s ‘match-stick men’ are as iconic as Monet’s bridge, and synonymous with the 20th century Northern English working class. The same-ness of the paintings mirrors the repetition in the lives of miners, miller-workers and poverty-stricken households. Yet while the curators of Tate Modern were telling me to be depressed, somber and filled with grief, I did not feel hope exactly, but a ‘life goes on’ mentality from these workers part of the un-ending conveyor belt of the industrial revolution. I am no art-historian, but I feel the interpretation within the space was forcing the visitors to feel oppressed and weighed down by the daily struggle of life. I understood the themes presented to me, beaten into me by the end of the exhibition, but I didn’t feel as sad as I was told I should. In Lowry’s work I see life, work, movement and energy. The tone of the text was at times melodramatic and this became tedious by the end. Where is the admiration of work ethic that Lowry clearly saw in the workers? Even the little booklet given at the entrance was an uninteresting supplement to the visit.
Lowry’s artwork itself was enjoyable. While going through the galleries, many times I felt I had seen the picture before (the themes are oft-repeated), but that did not take away from my amusement of each painting. The longer you looked, the more you saw. Every figure seemed to tell a story, and I imagined Lowry knowing every detail of every figure’s, every dog’s name and every man’s wife. The artwork seemed real and alive.
I’m not sure if there is much more to say on the topic: the exhibit ‘does what it says on the box’ and is an impressive collection of Lowry’s work.