What is Art – L.S.Lowry? Happy 125th Birthday

“I am not an artist. I am a man who paints.”

So said the man who produced around 1,000 paintings and over 8,000 drawing during his lifetime. L.S.Lowry (Laurence Stephen in case you were wondering) has long been known for his industrial pictures of Manchester, where he was born and grew up, and specifically the matchstick people who inhabit them.

I have never really been a great fan of his work, possibly because of my own preference for realism or the extreme opposite surrealism. Lowry always struck me as just a little dull at the side of the vivid and imaginative works of so many other artists, such as Dali for example.

Then again, perhaps I was simply put off by the association of his art with the 1978 hit single “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs” by Brian and Michael. Now, there was a song that seemed to spend an interminable amount of time in the Charts way back then, though strangely the reality is it actually only spent 3 weeks at no.1! Thank goodness they were a one hit wonder!

With the approach of his 125th birthday I thought it would be interesting to revisit my apparent negativity/disinterest. Among the pictures I could track down on line l was taken with this rather strange picture “Gentleman looking at Something (1960). I say “strange” because there is something quite unusual about a picture where the primary source of interest doesn’t appear in the picture…I want to know and can therefore only imagine what the “something” was. Perhaps he was watching an approaching tram, given that he is stood between it’s lines?

Reading a little further I am reminded by the Winsor and Newton site that Lowry used a very limited colour palette throughout all his paintings:

  • Ivory Black
  • Vermilion
  • Prussian Blue 
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Flake White

As I start to look more closely at the range of colour he achieves in his paintings I realise just how complicated things have become these days, with a vast array of colour tubes to select from, and very little idea about how some of them have been created! The subtlety and depth of colour achieved with this limited palette really is quite tremendous.

So, I can’t say I feel more excited by the art, but I am persuaded that there is something solid about the approach and something I might learn from that. Indeed, I already have thoughts in mind about painting next with a smaller range of colour on my palette.

In the meantime though – I’ll accept it’s art, think about arranging a trip to the Lowry in Salford, and wish Mr Lowry a happy 125th birthday with a small homage: “Lady looking at Something else.” I will leave you to determine what that something is…..

What is Art – Charles Mengin?

What better than a nice day out with old chums (chums of old, rather than aged, though saying that…) and an invitation to meet at Manchester Art Gallery.

Wrapped up warm (I’m off to Manchester after all) I opted for the relaxation of a gentle journey through the beautiful Hope Valley on the Transpennine Express. Points failure, train delays and a lost Manchester cabbie later I enjoyed a delightful lunch (and a bit of a giggle)   in the Manchester Art Gallery Restaurant. The day was already looking like a great a success and then came the art!

The scale of some of the works at Manchester’s city centre Gallery is amazing and the scenes depicted quite breathtaking. It’s always lovely to see a Turner close up and to marvel at the wondrous work of of his peers and predecessors. I am much less impressed by the “Art” of the paper cut artist 20,000 “feathers” hand cut from ordnance survey maps feels much more like OCD than art to me, but each to their own. My preference is for the realism of some of the works that facilitate a real connection – that usually means the figurative images with the  most realistic eyes and/or facial expressions. That and an interesting “back story” tend to hook me every time.

Painting of Sappho by Charles Mengin (1877)

Among my favourites today this painting  by Charles Mengin of Sappho, considered to be one of the one of the nine lyric poets of ancient Greece.

The image has a haunting, mystical quality that mirrors what little is known of the life and death of Sappho. Rumours abound about her sexuality and much of her work was destroyed, either deliberately or otherwise.

It has also been suggested that she committed suicide by leaping from the Leucadian cliffs for the love of Phaon, a mythological ferryman.

What is Art – Ashley Jackson?

The Big Draw – Ashley Jackson and Graham Ibbeson that sounds like fun!

On a cold but sunny Sunday morning we’re up much earlier than usual on our traditional “lie in” day. Warm coats, waterproofs and camping seats loaded we gather up a couple of grandchildren (not mine, but they are known to me, so I haven’t turned into some strange Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Child Catcher) and head for Cusworth Hall, Doncaster. It’s a beautiful day and we’re all set to receive our instructions from Ashley with art pads and pencils at the ready. Whoops! We’re 2 hours early, but never mind!

When we get started some time later we’re greeted by Ashley (wearing his trademark long waxed coat over his artist’s smock) and Graham who offer an insight into each others work to get us started. It’s already interesting to pick up their enthusiasm for what they do, their respect for each other and their typically no nonsense “Yorkshireness” (yes, I think I’ve made that word up) – I mean that down to earth bit about them that throws doubt on some of the more modern approaches to “Art”.

We’re off…we’re going to learn how to draw, nay paint, a quick outdoor scene (we only have one hour and at least 10 mins have already passed). First though, a quick tip “for the youngsters” on how to create a boat from the Christian Fish symbol. The closer the boat the fatter it should be and vice versa. Imagination is fired and Josh embarks on a couple of detailed drawings of ships that keep him quiet for the next 20 mins (because Ashley isn’t very inspiring apparently).

Ashley Jackson demonstration photograph

Ashley Jackson Demonstration

Next, we’re introduced to the principles of capturing umbrella (horse chestnut), lampshade (elm and sycamore) and teardrop (poplar) shaped trees, indeed we are surrounded by the green, red and gold autumnal trees of each of those various shapes! Ashley starts to outline our scene on rag paper –  (140lb Rough) using a pencil stub, whilst extolling the virtues of good composition (check out Turner’s painting of Bolton Abbey for good L-shaped composition).

The composition starts to take shape with the addition of colour washes, using a limited palette of only three colours – Prussian Blue, Lemon Yellow and Burnt Sienna, in varying proportions. We are reminded of the benefits of a real sable brush and of the principles of colour perspective as the scene to our right unfolds before our eyes on the easel. More words of wisdom:

“If it looks wrong it’s wrong even if it’s right”

Ashley Jackson demonstration photograph

Ashley Jackson demonstration


Final point – create four dark corners to prevent the picture falling out of the frame. With the addition of a mount card the picture is a triumph and once again Ashley Jackson has made watercolour painting look so much easier than it really is. Within 15 minutes the watercolour sketch is destroyed as part of the clearing up process.

Inside Cusworth Hall the “Opposites Attract” exhibition features some of Ashley’s fabulously atmospheric watercolour paintings of Yorkshire including some of her roughest Peak District terrain. Each demonstrates the tips we have just been given outside with the exception of how to capture the feeling – without a doubt these pictures really do convey the sense that he sees Yorkshire as his mistress…there’s love in them there hills!

So, a good day had by all and souvenirs for our two budding artists who spent the evening producing even more fine art works!

Sketch of Josh sketching

Josh sketching

Sketch of Caitlan

Caitlan listens to Ashley