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From: The Socialist issue 777, 28 August 2013: Stop Cuts - Demand united action

Search site for keywords: Exhibition - Britain - Depression - Art

Exhibition review: Lowry's one track vision

Amalia Loizidou

The exhibition "Lowry and the painting of Modern Life" at Tate Britain (until 20 October) has quite a rich collection of Lowry's work depicting industrialised Britain. This "painter of modern life" worked from the 1920s until a few decades later.

"I've a one-track mind. I only deal with poverty. Always with gloom," Lowry said. Lowry was a Conservative voter. But two things are almost always present in his work - factory chimneys and crowds. He was painting what he saw in his rounds as a rent collector.

As he started developing his art in the 1920s and 1930s, times of economic depression, crowds and factories would inevitably mean his focus would be on what those times meant for the working people and poor of the north of England (being a Northerner himself).

In one room entitled 'The Social Life of Labour Britain', the paintings show scenes such as evictions ('The Removal', 1928), fatal diseases ('The Fever Van' 1935, where ill children were taken from their homes to hospitals, often never to return again) and auctioneers (pawn shops, 'Jackson's Auction and Saleroom', 1952).

These are easily comprehensible in today's austerity Britain of benefit cuts, bedroom tax, along with the dismantling of the NHS, pawn shops and pay day loan companies becoming part of working people's daily lives.

Lowry's work, painted during the Great Depression and the post-war recovery, is shockingly relevant today. There are more similarities between our lives and those of the crowds in his paintings than differences.

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