David Hockney and L.S. Lowry: Two northern artists in their time

David Hockney: A Bigger Splash

In the 1970s, David Hockney and L.S. Lowry were the artists children had heard of. Hockney’s modernity, bright colours and light touch appealed to schoolteachers, and Lowry – Lowry, of course, had been the subject of this memorable, kindly pop song:


I’d be grateful to Hockney, later on, both for his enthusiasm for new technology (latterly he’s worked with an iPad) and his glorious experiments with artistic mediums I could actually afford to buy (photo collages in particular, although my attempts did little more than ram home just how much more of an eye Hockney had than I did). Lowry I’ve always felt less of a connection to; something chills me about all those anonymous crowds, those cities he paints from high above and far off.

An iPad Hockney

The two men were born almost exactly fifty years apart, but their works make it seem much more than that: Lowry’s looking back as they did, into the smoke and blackened brick of the Victorian north and Hockney’s, peering ahead into a clean Californian future. Compare Hockney’s brilliant Apollo-era palette to Lowry’s, smeared with primeval mud.

Lowry, of course, stayed home. Hockney emigrated, but his was a modern emigration with nothing of the steerage about it. He went out already a success; he’d already become Hockney if you like. Part of that process had required him to come to terms with his own homosexuality at a time when homosexual practices were still illegal.

The way the two men dealt with their sexuality speaks volumes for the contrasting times in which they lived. Hockeny, homosexual, would be one of the architects of an entirely new and positive aesthetic for homosexuality. The clear, fresh, warm and open air over those beautiful Californian swimming pools! Lowry, long dominated by his mother, was hetrosexual, but, in the light of the private Lowry drawings that have recently come to light, it’s hard not to speculate that his was a rocky road:

Private Lowry sketch c.1960-76

(You can learn more about these sketches here)

That, and the red eyes:

L.S. Lowry: “Hidden Man” 1938

When the Chatterley ban was lifted, Lowry was already 76. Too little, you have to think; too late.


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