He makes you weep. He died a virgin. When his totally manipulative witch of mother died he wanted to commit suicide. She always told him he was a failure and he believed her. She spent seven years in bed and blamed her only son for her failure as a concert pianist.
He spent his life as a rent collector. He walked the streets in a slow silent walk seeing the poor fail or at best just survive. He immersed himself in the dirty old town by the old canal. His factory chimneys were always belching, always God like, they dominated every horizon, there was no green hill, not even far way. As he says,”I deal with poverty, always with gloom.” And of his barren social life he said,”Had I not been lonely none of my works would have happened.”
He sublimated with sado masochistic fantasies. He lived all his life in the Manchester suburb of Pendlebury. His was a family in financial decline having been forced to move from the leafy suburbs. To complete his misery he supported City. The only bright-and its relative spot in his life was his relationship ,late in life, with a 13 year old girl.
This was no Caravaggio fighting and fucking in pure red blood this was no Picasso marching through a 100 bedrooms and a dozen distinctive a ground breaking styles. No, this was the matchstick man. LS Lowry.
He lived a long life 1887-1976. From the high point of the Victorian Empire to the deindustrialisation of Britain in the EU,and the emergence of a better life for most. But old Lowry was having none of it. Certainly as the Tate Britain exhibition moves through his life by the end there is more colour and open space. But while others from “up North” were talking about the birth of a new society through Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Room at the Top old Lowry was having none of it. Its cripples and hospital waiting rooms for old LS.
Its not as if he wasn’t successful. He had an international reputation from the 1930s and his pictures-and there are an awful lot-sold. The establishment may have more than one mind about LS but his gallery in Salford dominates the cultural landscape and even the sniffy Tate own 23 of his pictures.
Typically his matchstick men do not have faces. As they stoop and shuffle to and from the factory, to and from the football, to and from nowhere to no place with the grey smoke always belching, the cruel mills and mean terraces, their faces have the jellied horror of The Scream. “They are real people. Sad people I am attracted to sadness”.
LS Lowry’s dirty old town with its sad but not quite broken matchsticks is the exact mirror of Constable’s bucolic peace. Where the rural poor content in the lush sunshine of their eternal tasks go merrily on their way. While Lowry’s matchsticks never speak, Constables peasants are always singing.
But just as Munch and Constable are some of the great images we have all experienced, so is Lowry. He is a great. Every picture reminds you of a Britain before 1970. Sunday afternoons nothing to do. No money ,nowhere to go. No landscape, no hope, no escape. And the next day,worse,a dull factory job. And there he is, the matchstick man painting it all down.
Funnily enough he looks like Jonathan Miller. He is the younger brother who failed at school, had to stay h behind to look after his mother, who got a lousy depressing job and was a fucking genius. He was sent to Art School where he received a good artistic education which brought him under the influence of several French schools.
Unlike many he did not have a happy or even a satisfactory home life. Unlike many he is immortal. And modest. He said “You don’t need brains to be a painter, just feelings.” Bless him, he voted Tory all his life but in the end declined a knighthood. As they say, not like other men. A genius.