Northern star will rise and shine this summer

LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
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A seaside chippie reminded your humble correspondent that he was walking in the footsteps of genius last week.

Lowry’s Fish and Chips on the prom at Seaburn pays greasy homage to arguably the most important British artist of the modern era.

It was in Seaburn – seaside suburb of Sunderland – that LS Lowry painted some of his lesser known works; a series of bleak, forbidding seascapes as far removed from the bustle of his more celebrated city scenes as can be imagined.

Lesser known but no less magnificent for that. Whether turning his gaze on an empty endless ocean or a narrow slum canyon, here was a consistently radical, unconventional talent. One who, I would happily argue, will eventually come to be considered Lancashire’s greatest single gift to world culture, his only realistic rival in this regard soon to be The Beatles (Lancashire? The Fab Four? But surely they’re from Merseyside? Oh dear me not a bit. Check the birth certificates. Available online somewhere, guaranteed. Reading transcripts of Parliamentary debate from 1973 the other day. Mad. Seek and ye shall find), and those lovable moptops are going to sound utterly, irrevocably dated 40 or 50 or 60 years hence.

Lowry, by contrast, is an artist whose time is yet to come.

It has been on the way for some while, each successive auction of his work smashing records set by the previous one, but that era will begin in earnest this summer, with Tate Britain’s ‘Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life’, the first major London exhibition of the Salford artist’s work since his death in 1976.

Those behind the exhibition seek not only to confirm his status as our pre-eminent recorder of life – from fist-fights and evictions to football matches and protest marches – in what were then the world’s leading industrial cities (without Lowry there would exist no substantive artistic representation of the experiences of the 20th century working class), but also to stake his claim as a great artistic innovator.

Widely and for too long dismissed glibly as a mere dauber of matchstick men sparking clogs, etc., the scale of his vision and ambition will be a central thrust of the Tate show.

Fusing elements of realism and impressionism, consciously harking back to such 19th century painters of ‘modern life’ as Pissaro and Utrillo, Lowry, the curators argue, contrived a unique way of depicting his world.

A descriptive, laconic art, a style precisely calibrated to capture the very essence of his principal subject matter – bleak industrial landscapes and the people found therein.

‘Will I live?’ the great man is said to have asked on his deathbed, referring to his art rather than his failing flesh. Book early to avoid disappointment. Be there in June to see this question answered once and for all time.