Exactly 40 years ago this month, the ‘Salford’ artist Laurence Stephen Lowry died.
And yet the influence of the man better known as L.S. Lowry is arguably being felt stronger than ever before in the town and city with which he will forever be associated.
This blog is being conceived within a few yards of the now under renovation Pendlebury semi which he called home for many of his Salford years. In front of me is the recently refurbished Lowry mill – presumably captured in oil colours at some point by the late and great artist and just one of the many local landmarks which now ensure that his name lives on.
Elsewhere in his honour are taxi firms, estate agents, hotels, and, most famously, a world-class arts centre which today houses many of his best works, apartments and road names. His legacy is arguably MediaCityUK, home to the BBC’s Northern outpost at Salford Quays. He would find the place almost totally unrecognisable now and that’s a good thing because times have changed, and mostly for the better.
When did L.S. Lowry die?
Lowry died from pneumonia in the Woods Hospital near Glossop on February 23, 1976. He was 88. That was four decades ago and yet it wasn’t that long ago that many of Lowry’s street scenes remained recognisable. He most likely fell upon them as he toured the streets of Swinton doing his day job, collecting rent. But increasingly, many of the steeples, chimneys, markets and meeting places he captured on his easel are disappearing.
It is getting increasingly difficult to spot locations where it is clear that Lowry sat a while some 60 or so years ago and captured the scene for posterity.
As a proud son of Salford myself, I’d say that its citizens are loyal to his memory and his life’s work. They appreciate his toil and his talents but do many of them like his work? I’m not sure. It’s true that replica Lowry’s hang in the houses of many older people in Salford. Those lucky enough to have the money – mainly bookmakers – have the real thing on their walls.
But to me his work has always captured all that was bleak about the city and the broader north west. His brilliantly observed freakish characters do little to warm outsiders to the people who lived here in the past or now. Those grim images of subservient working class people show folk trapped in their ways and their days. There’s very little upwardly mobile about a matchstick man. Or his cats and dogs for that matter.
The recent Panorama documentary about Salford and the shooting of Paul Massey, on a stone’s throw from Lowry’s Pendlebury home, provide evidence that the city needs an image review. There are no sparking clogs any more and too many gun shots.
Lowry is a proud part of Salford’s history but he should not be recognised in its present and we certainly shouldn’t aspire for his imagery to be a premonition of our future. The magnificent Lowry arts centre is part of the solution, providing somewhere to showcase new talent. Lowry’s memory will live on but maybe it’s time the city of Salford found some new icons to celebrate.
Maybe the Lowry should host the search for the next generation of inspirational artists. An L.S. Lowry anniversary prize is one idea, with judges challenged to find someone who shows the city as it should be, rather than it used to be: modern, vibrant, packed with talented people, , strong, salt of the earth… proudly Salfordian and determined to make the city a better place.
Main image – Wikipedia