Friday, 8 May 2009

Lowrys @ The Lowry

I have a dirty little secret.

I have never visited The Lowry before today. With a day off work and a recently made list of the must visit art institutions in Manchester, I decided today was the day. I got on my bicycle, braving wind and rain, and cycled to Salford.

I have never paid that much attention to L. S. Lowry, just allowed him to skirt the edges of my artistic consciousness in the way that ubiquitous but visually unappealing artists can. I have idly wondered why he received so much attention when much more exciting artists of the period, though being well know, are not universally vaunted in the same way.

However, after my trip to the Lowry today, I was left with thoughts about the matrix of understanding that his work ( and all art ) sits in - the very substance of one artists place in the construction of art history. Lowry is probably a useful one to look at when attempting to reveal the invisible, but ever present, practises of editing and creating which take place when an artist is discussed, presented and placed within a simple art/historical context.

Much has been written about how the Lowry has the biggest collection of L. S. Lowry's paintings. Recently, when i was reading 'Stealing the Mona Lisa' I read about L. S. Lowry's secret paintings - hidden till discovery after his death - which are dripping with sexual violence. I half hoped to see some of these today, as a nod to a comprehensive representation of his production.

However, unsurprisingly they were not on display among the numerous other paintings.

I read too much Pratchett as a kid, and the concept of people only seeing what they wanted to see is therefore very familiar to me. It is also true that objectivity has little place in art. Knowing about these hidden works I saw hints of darkness in his paintings, but just as these may be ignored by the viewer seeking nostalgia, they may equally be a product of my feverish brain. 

I know the thing I want would be no more an accurate representation of Lowry as a artist, but it would perhaps be fun to shake people out of their comfortable complacency.

I know these paintings were not paintings that Lowry wanted to make public, and in turn are probably suppressed by the estate. Suppression may be a too thorny word, but by not displaying them within what presents itself as a comprehensive collection of his work it is clear that editorial decisions have been made. Especially since these galleries are organised along biographical/chronological lines, the artist as biographical figure, not as commercial artists, is ever present, making the leaving out of the non-public works even more problematic.

With the millions of pounds and tonnes of rhetoric which are invested in the Lowry, it would be impossible to present aspects of Lowry's artistic production/psycho-sexual machinations which would contradict the status quo, the traditional, twee regional simple idea of the artist, on to which people can project what they want.

Lowry as a man holds little interest to me, whatever he did to work out his sexual frustrations interests me in only the laziest and tawdiest sense, but the way in which public cultural attitudes and editorial decisions are played out around his artistic production are more clearly discerned than usually.

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