I don’t pretend to be anything like as talented, great or utterly brilliant as LS Lowry, but on a recent trip to the delightful northern country of Northumberland, I discover we have a little in common. We both find respite in the sea- Lowry was sent to the North East in 1936 to take a break from his stressful home life and fell in love with the North Sea – and I can certainly understand his statement that ‘It’s all there. It’s all in the sea. The Battle of Life is there.’ Lowry was one who sketched on the go for his own amusement, forming these scraps later into something final, and I too scribble on patches of paper and torn envelopes whenever something catches my inspiration, in the hope it may one day be useful. We both love the bustle, cities, and social situations, whether as people watchers or nosey citizens.
And finally, we both became enamored by Berwick-upon-Tweed, Britain’s most northerly town, where the LS Lowry in Berwick & Northumberland exhibition takes place at the Granary Gallery until September 21st.
Staying a few miles down the road at Lindisfarne Inn, it was actually just the necessity of heading to a supermarket for some fruit (the shame), which brought us to Berwick-upon-Tweed, but as we dipped down into the Elizabethan walled town, Robert Stephenson’s Royal Border Bridge standing grand ahead of us, it became clear that there was more here than just shops for sustenance.
With no local guide at hand, it seemed sensible to enlist the help of another great to help us, and that was where the Lowry Trail came in. Eighteen different information points are dotted around the city, giving details on the work they inspired or their personal connection to Lowry. The narrow streets and lanes and Georgian buildings of Berwick were included in his first one man exhibition in London in 1939, and he continued his explorations of the region, from Middlesbrough, Stockton, Barnard and Blyth, right through his life.
A wander to the Pier allows you to stand in the spot where Lowry sketched the comings and goings of fishing bars, and the 1936 pencil drawing of Dewar’s Lane (where the Granary Gallery is situated) was inspired by the street’s tall enclosing buildings which reach up to twelve metres high.
Spittal Sands inspired one of the more colourful, verging on impressionist, works that will be in display this summer, and the Promenade was the setting of a departure from matchstick men to cartoonish oil painting of a young girl in 1966. Lowry loved his football, and it was spotting a game at The Stanks (a Scottish term for ditch) that he captured the game taking place in this former moat, in a nod to his iconic work Going To The Match.
It’s surprising to see how little has changed in many ways. Over six miles, the Lowry trail takes you through Lowry’s own story, a creative journey, and facilitates an exploration of a town filled with historic and personal activity. Lowry’s depictions of Berwick are infused with a spirit and fracture that capture the turbulent urban lifestyle, the artist’s own personal, fractured, outlook, and this region’s distinct magic. We’re glad he was our guide.