The Man Who Painted Matchsticks
A couple of years ago when I visited my son Hakim who lived in Salford, he took us to the Lowry Centre there, a huge million-pound building specially designed to house this son of Manchester’s favourite artist’s masterpieces. I went to university in Manchester and knew vaguely about this painter, and was even slightly acquainted with his work, but with a whole art gallery devoted to his masterworks, I was able to gorge on his unique masterpieces. Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in Stretford near Manchester from a modest background. He made a living by office work and rent-collecting. He was a modest and unassuming man. He never wore a beret or a pocket handkerchief — or a kerchief in his life. He was not an habitué of artistic haunts, nor did he
sleep with his models. In fact he claimed that he had never “known” a woman. He spent his life in a decrepit apartment which had seen better days, situated in a slummy area of Pendlebury, looking after his bad-tempered, unloving and bed-ridden mother. She discouraged his attempts to develop his natural talent for painting, assuring him that she never saw any spark in him. But Laurence had great belief in himself and enrolled at art college doing evening classes, and studied with a valued French impressionist. He has said that he learnt much from Adolphe Valette, but his modernist style does not
readily fall into the category of impressionism. He is immediately recognised for his “matchstick men”. Now he is considered one of the greatest English artists, and his masterpieces sell for millions of pounds.
A few weeks ago I caught the film Mrs Lowry and Son in which we get a picture of how soul-destroying it was for the artist to be cooped up with someone who always put him down, which however did not diminish his cheerful attitude in caring for her. When he did a special painting for her, she would not have it on the walls of her bedroom because it only reminded her how mediocre her son was. Later when he was offered a knighthood he gently declined it, saying that as his mother had died, there was not much point. The film, with Vanessa Redgrave in the role of Mrs Lowry and Timothy Spall (who also played J.M.W Turner in Mike Leigh’s film) as Lowry, was very innovative in how it subtly dovetailed Lowry themes in the depiction of his everyday life. It will also be surprising if the two actors did not pick best actor/actress nominations.
(The paintings of Lowry were from wikimedia)