As our eye descends down the steep hill and past the lonely church, towards an endless sea of chimney stacks and factory roofs, Clark & Wagner’s argument that Lowry’s work is just as relevant to today’s audience as it was forty or fifty years ago is all too clear. As they write in reference to another ‘composite’ industrial landscape, Landscape Wigan, but equally applicable to The Church in the Hollow, these works ‘speak [..] to the present – and alas, to the probable future – in ways that only a London-and-Los Angeles art-world could imagine no longer relevant. The swamps and chimneys are those of Wigan seventy years ago, but could well be the edges of Shenzhen or Sao Paulo in 2013. Lowry’s art may eventually be shown in such places. It is sad to think that this will be because his tragic vision comes in time to resonate with these societies’ sense of the ‘great leap forward’ they have taken in Wigan’s wake.’ (T.J. Clark and Anne M. Wagner, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, Tate Publishing, London, 2013, p.19)
The Church in the Hollow is also a painting that gives lie to the idea that Lowry is somehow a ‘naïve’ painter. If one looks simply at the central section of the work, as the serrated row of blue triangles of the roofs turns and folds into the flat rectangles of colour of buildings at the foot of the church – this passage of composition is handled with a sophistication and spatial complexity akin to Braque or Cézanne, artists whose work Lowry knew and understood. And Lowry’s use of colour, too, is as beautifully managed as any abstract painter of his day. He deliberately sets himself a limited palette, in which black and white have mainly a structural role, whilst just a few colours - blue-greys, dirty ochre-greens – convey all the emotion. To add this much feeling with such economy is poetry, pure and simple.
Within this highly sophisticated framework, Lowry adds the final narrative layer – the people of this hard-working, unforgiving town. With all the eloquence of an artist at the height of his powers, as he was in 1944, Lowry captures their life-stories in a couple of flicks of his brush: the weight upon their shoulders, the heaviness in their legs. Even the dog looks brow-beaten from living in this ‘lovely-ugly town’ (to borrow from Dylan Thomas).
If Lowry's painting as a whole can be seen as a form of poetry, a decades-long elegy for a world that was already disappearing by the time this present work was painted, then The Church in the Hollow should perhaps be seen as one of its most perfect stanzas, distilling into once single glance down a hilly terrace street the full experience of life in the industrial city.
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