A few weeks ago, back in the world where we were allowed to go to the cinema, Ian and I went to see Lowry and Son starring Timothy Spall as the painter and Vanessa Redgrave as his bedridden, stifling, mother. Laurence Lowry was a rent collector, like his father before him, and lived in an industrial town in Lancashire, called Pendlebury. Often accused of being a Sunday painter, Lowry retaliated with the words, “I am a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week.” And paint he did, in the candlelit attic of their bay-fronted, redbrick Victorian terraced house. Few appreciated his talent, least of all his mother, and he saw little success until after she passed away.
“I paint what I see,” he said and he did, repeatedly churning out painting after painting of the urban landscape in which he lived and worked. He was famous for his meticulous renditions of swathes of brickwork and hundreds of drab mill-workers, scurrying home, bent by wind or drizzle, their eyes fixed to the pavement. These became known as matchstick men, somewhat derisively but, you know, that was exactly what he saw.
Read the way he once described the Acme Company and notice how his words paint a clear picture:
“I saw the Acme Company’s spinning mill: the huge, black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp-charged, afternoon sky. The mill was turning out hundreds of little, pinched figures, heads bent down... I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture.”
These are the words, not just of a painter, but of a writer.
For many years my students have heard me ask them to ‘paint a picture with your pen’. I also share the inspiration of the British actor and painter, Antony Sher, who wrote in his memoir, Beside Myself, that "a drawing is just a piece of writing that has been tied up and a drawing is just words that have been untied." Lowry endorses this theory.
As I write this, much of the world is being forced to stay home and self-isolate because of the devastation COVID-19 is wreaking on us all. If, like me, you find yourself gazing longingly out of your window, pick up your pen and describe what you see in such detail that you create a vivid word-painting. Write so that someone else, totally unfamiliar with where you live, might picture it too. Lowry usually put people in his work. When you write your piece please endeavour to add a person, a bird or other living thing, to your writing too. People interact with the landscape, adding an extra layer of meaning.
“I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me,” wrote Lowry.
Your challenge is to write yourself into what absorbs you, whether your view be of fields, factories or the street outside. Let us see it and then, if you would like, I invite you to add your writing to the comments section of my blog at www.joparfitt.com/inspirer-blog.html and I’ll be glad to give you my opinion.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer