L. S. Lowry's vision of the post-industrial landscape of Salford and Manchester is a dominant and distinctive feature of many of his better-known paintings: bleak but beautifully painted, it is unflinchingly direct, almost brutal - and yet engagingly human in its evocation of time and place.
The largest ever assembled collection of his paintings is currently on show at the eponymous Lowry Centre at Salford Quays where I saw it before it moves to the Tate in London. I travelled in a smart, new yellow and grey tram which, from its elevated track, gave unimpeded views of tidied-up canals, newly-built apartment blocks, shimmering glass office buildings and small but determinedly allocated patches of greenery - all so different from what the artist saw in his time. Even the Lowry building itself, a quirky assemblage of glass, steel and aluminium amalgamated in such a way as to be striking rather than pleasing to the eye, would be alien to him. He died relatively recently (1976) but there were no buildings like it in, or near, his home town during his lifetime.
But the exhibition is an opportunity to appreciate that Lowry's artistic scope was greater than is popularly perceived. There are bewitching seascapes, haunting portraits and, later, some strangely abstract landscapes. We learn that, having lived alone for 40 years, he acknowledged that a sense of loneliness pervades much of his work. There are even a few erotic pictures - again unsurprising, given his bachelor status and the collection of pre-Raphaelite portraits of luscious women that adorned his bedroom walls. What is tantalising, however, is the implication that he made many more erotic pictures and that his estate has edited the display and restricted what we may see. It would be interesting (if a little prurient) to see more.
Another 'edited' character currently in the spotlight is Patrick Leigh Fermor, a self-taught , self-made and remarkably brave adventurer and author. He set out from London at the age of 18 and walked across Europe to Constantinople, with barely any money and just a few introductions: and that was just the start of many adventures which included war-time heroics, more travelling and a distinguished writing career. Fermor died last year at the age of 96. The author of his biography had been contracted to write it some 15 years earlier but enjoined not to publish until after his death in order, it appears, to preserve a few reputations. Given his prolific sexual encounters this was probably a very practical way of avoiding a few 'upsets'. Perhaps more will be revealed in the future.
By the time I got around to reading A Time of Gifts, his dashing, romantic account of his epic first journey, I was past the age at which I might have been persuaded to emulate his daredevil approach to life. Given my track record I would never have done so anyway - but that didn't stop me being envious of Fermor's all-or-nothing, gung-ho assault on life which brought him riches in the form of diverse experience, risky travel adventures, exotic relationships and lovers galore. These experiences he converted into memorable writing which delivers a vivid account of the recent past.
Mr. Lowry, on the other hand, led a life which I would not have relished for myself: he lived with his mum until she died, then lived the rest of his life alone; he never travelled abroad and he continued to be employed as a rent collector even after his paintings began to sell. Yet his imagination transcended the everyday and enabled him to escape from the temporal hum-drum. His doleful, detailed imagery evokes people and places as memorably as does the writing of Fermor.
When, on a wet Wednesday, I regard the work of these two men it reassures me to note that whether daily life is dull or exotic matters not so much as the expression of it.