I feel sort of embarrassed to admit this but I had never heard of L.S. Lowry until I stumbled across him the other day. I am most likely not alone in this but would have thought he would have crossed my radar screen at some point, especially given his prominence in the British art world and in British culture. Not that I know a lot about British art or culture. But this is a painter who has sold many works in the multi-million dollar range, one selling for a record $9+ million last last year. This is not an anonymous artist.
I am still discovering more about this painter with a most individual style but here is a very short summation. He was born in the north of England in 1887 and died in 1976, having spent most of his life as a rent collector for a property company. Although he is often referred to as a self-taught artist, through much of his working life he studied art in the evenings at various schools. He used this study and the environment around him to find the distinctive style that marked his work, one that is populated with matchstick figures walking through urban scenes, often heavily filled with images of the English industrial landscape.
His work has permeated British popular culture as well. His matchstick figures were the basis for a 1967 rock song. Pictures of Matchstick Men, from Status Quo that was later became a hit here in the States when covered by Camper Van Beethoven in the 80’s. And more recently, the British group Oasis had a video, The Masterplan, featuring the band members as matchstick men walking through animated scenes from Lowry’s paintings. In fact, Noel Gallagher, one of the leaders of Oasis, has joined a growing chorus of fervent Lowry fans in Britain who have been calling for greater displays and recognition of the late painter’s work there. As a result, the Tate is mounting a major retrospective of Lowry’s work for 2013.
There’s a lot for me to like about Lowry which makes just finding him now more puzzling. But I have found him and will continue to learn more. For now, here is the both the Status Quo song and the Oasis video.