Parts of a Vision
A quick word while there is still time to see it about the fantastic House of Annie Lennox exhibition now on at the Lowry. On loan from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, exhibits include a wall full of gold and silver discs awarded to Annie both for her work with the Eurythmics and her solo releases; a variety of costumes she has worn over the years; beautiful and striking pictures that show how she works with photographers and costume designers to create a playfully bold array of “characters” or personas; and recordings of her never officially released “Butterfly Music” (instrumental), which you can listen to through headphones as you peer into little glass cases containing a selection of personal artefacts. There is also a room where you can sit and enjoy her typically unique music videos, and information about the AIDS-awareness campaigns she has supported ever since hearing Nelson Mandela speak to the press on Robben Island.
Although Annie – one of Scotland and the world’s most successful and respected musicians – did perform at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert (just Google it if you didn’t hear about the Jubilee), going around the gallery was for me a welcome relief from the seemingly exponential growth of Union Jacks and fawning newspaper front pages about England’s beloved Monarch. Still, the BBC made sure that we couldn’t forget about her, with rolling footage displayed on a giant outdoor screen that stands proudly in the centre of what they call their “public realm” at Salford Quays.
Another exhibition on at the Lowry right now is about the man after whom it is named – L.S. Lowry, famous for his “unromantic” and to many critics “amateurish” pictures of industrial Northern scenes, painted between the late 1920s and 1960s. Of course, the Lowry always show something from their permanent collection of his work, but the themes change every so often. This time the focus is on his paintings of figures – both depictions of the “unfortunate” and poor characters who could be glimpsed in areas of Lancashire and Salford at a time when government didn’t offer very much to people struggling to make ends meet, and of important figures in his life such as the mysterious “Ann” (real or fictitious? Nobody can be sure). Lowry is often associated with a certain stark realism, or with an ethic of social reform. Yet he himself said:
“I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me […] Natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made my figures half unreal. Some critics have said that I turned my figures into puppets, as if my aim were to hint at the hard economic necessities that drove them. To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about the people. I did not care for them in the way a social reformer does. They are part of a private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way: as part of a vision.”
I can’t help but imagine that the Queen and her family must look down from their balcony and also see a mass of half unreal figures. Parts of a vision that centres on their own sense of self-worth and family history rather than on the lives of the people themselves; and somehow when Annie Lennox speaks about her commitment to “good causes” I find it far more compelling than when Kate Middleton does.