LS Lowry in Berwick & Northumberland – A review by Anthony McCarthy

Ever keen to find connections in the elaborate Lowry puzzle I headed north from our own Lowry Collection in Salford to find that something strange is happening at the Granary Gallery in Berwick-upon-Tweed. A compact exhibition space which normally achieves visitor figures of 2,000 people over three months, the gallery has attracted 1,600 visitors in a week. Their exhibition LS Lowry in Berwick and Northumberland comprises 24 works by the artist LS Lowry and is proving a draw for the public, and rightly so.

The exhibition explores Lowry’s lifelong affinity with the sea and documents his extensive visits to Northumberland and Berwick-upon-Tweed from 1935 to 1970. Through many loans from The Lowry Collection, Salford, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens and the Estate of LS Lowry, Lowry’s intimate knowledge of the area is revealed – its back streets, vast coastal views and the monolithic tankers (that to this day straddle the horizon line). Lowry ponders man’s place against the elements in many guises and it is clear he gravitated to the epic open scenery of the North East for a reason. Through the development of his ideas, from sketches made casually on the spot (sometimes on envelopes) to working drawings and paintings, there is a searching, a questioning and a yearning for escapism and depiction that is revelatory. Lowry was clearly ‘in the moment’. Berwick

Lowry was seriously considering moving to Berwick in 1947 to a very imposing house with an exceptional sea view, named ‘The Lions’. He was ultimately dissuaded by an architect friend on insistence that it was overrun with damp. Viewed today the large stone lions at the front of the property are in turns hideous and hilarious – perfect Lowry fodder. The unique characters that populate Lowry’s creations and the warmth and affection of the locals are easily encountered in the area today. Be sure to call in to Lowry’s favourite hotel in the town, The Castle.

It is such an interesting and perceptive idea to group these technically varied works together in the Granary Gallery in the shadow of where many of the scenes still exist. The Granary itself features in one of Lowry’s best known drawings of Dewar’s Lane, Berwick-upon-Tweed, included in the exhibition. Embarking upon the excellent and exhaustive Lowry trail around Berwick, Lowry’s presence is still very much in the air and his work firmly in context. From the trail we see there are omissions in the exhibition, the joyous painting Spittal Promenade (No 17 on the walk) is a case in point and there are further drawings of the area to be found. Lowry’s association with Berwick is vast. Yet when you stop and take in these views in context they are blatantly contemporary today. Children play on the same sun drenched beach in the shadow of a forlorn chimney, the remains of a decaying industrial wasteland surrounds them. Lowry’s vision is as fresh as ever, in motion and in front of you.

The exhibition begins with Lowry’s 1925 Self Portrait, wearing a cloth cap and portrayed as an assertive a man of his time, and it culminates with The Sea 1963. The latter is hung as a lone painting – an immense scene displayed as a bold statement on contemplation and the pinnacle of an eventful artistic journey by this most complex, misunderstood, visionary, and still contemporary artist.

LS Lowry in Berwick and Northumberland runs at The Granary Gallery until 21 September 2014