I don’t know about you, but for me, when I wake up and the sun is shining and the sky is a clear blue, I feel great. Life is good. I want to get out and do things. I have an urge to go into the garden and make things look good. On the other hand, when I get up and it is cold, pouring with rain and the sky is covered in black clouds I start to feel slightly depressed and extremely unmotivated. I know that anything I do will not be done with any degree of enjoyment simply because I am not in the right frame of mind. For that reason, and so as to clear my mind, I will often turn to a DVD and watch a film which helps me escape reality. Although I am not an artist I would imagine that if you are experiencing life at its worse for whatever reason it may be transmitted subconsciously into your work of art. It could be that your painting reflects your state of mind. All this leads me to the second painting I am featuring by the artist L S Lowry.
This painting was the first one I came across when I walked into the Lowry Gallery at Salford Quays, just outside of Manchester. I was so impressed by it that throughout my hour-long walk around the gallery I kept wanting to return to it and search for things that had escaped my attention during my initial viewing. It was painted by Lowry in 1937 at a very distressing period of his life. His father had died five years earlier and this had badly affected his elderly mother who just took to her bed and stayed there until she died in late 1938. Lowry’s never really bonded with his father and their relationship does not appear to have been a loving one. I get the feeling they exchanged pleasantries but there was never a warmth in their relationship. Lowry probably turned to his mother, whom he dearly loved, for comfort but sadly he never received the love and affection that a child should receive from his mother. She had always wanted daughters and was dissatisfied with her lot in life having been saddled with a son. She rarely praised Lowry for his artistic achievements and maybe if she had shown just a modicum of pride for her son’s artistic success then maybe Lowry would have led a much happier life.
Despite all this, she demanded that Lowry and only Lowry attended to her needs when she spent her last seven and half years bedridden. He would comb and brush her hair, bathe her and tend her bed sores. I don’t believe she even appreciated what her son did for her and this period in his life must have affected him both mentally and physically. He was a man under great stress.
So to look at this painting knowing what life was like for Lowry at the time may give you some idea why there is a somewhat depressing feel to the work. It is possible that his mental stress and depression percolated into the painting and in a way was the reason for its bleakness. We are looking at a view of the Irwell Valley. We see the smoke-polluted atmosphere of an industrial area. It is a very moody painting. It is a very depressing work of art. It is an environmental nightmare set against an industrial background. Look at the foreground with its fences and what look like blood-red coloured tombstones dotted around. The telegraph poles remind us of crucifixes. The water in the middle ground looks dirty and stagnant and we see an abandoned half-sunken boat to the left. On the left shore we see men queuing for work at a time when jobs were few and far between. On the far side of the lake we see Agecroft Colliery which had been opened in 1844 but had to close in 1932 with a great loss of jobs. It was re-opened in the late 1940’s due to the country’s lack of coal supplies. As our eyes scan the picture we are drawn to the red mill on the skyline. Look how Lowry has intertwined churches and the town hall with the mill chimneys, which spew out black polluting smoke, and the winding tower of the colliery, which sits by its slag heap. It is an interesting juxtaposition of industrial architecture and residential buildings.
It is a very dark and “dirty” picture and after looking at it for a while I feel I need to go and wash my hands to cleanse myself of the grime which emanates from the painting. The more I look at the painting, the more I am sure that there was transference of the artist’s state of mind into what he offered us in his painting.