Galleries - August 2010

scapes of muted tones covered by bone white skies or distant sea- scapes, soundless except for the prickle of a wave upon gravel. It’s an inner world of stillness and contemplation. There are many wonderful pictures to recommend in this challenging and enlightening ex- hibition, paintings of real honesty, integrity and great personal long- ing. Lowry, despite the common myths that surrounded him in his lifetime, had the courage to turn away from the works that bestowed fame and in return he was left free to express and share those perennial themes of love and loneliness. This year’s National Eisteddfod is beingheld in an abandoned steel works. To complement its visual art section, Mary Lloyd Jones has chosen 14 colourful canvases by local artist Roger Cecil. The paint- ings are large, measuring six by five feet. Roger Cecil is a collier’s son. He belonged to a generation of un- derprivileged children who receiv- ed places at Newport College of Art. Tryingfor the Royal College, he was put off by its snobbery and returned home. Black humour is ingrained in his nature. His paint- Over the last decade or so, Abbot Hall Art Gallery has developed a considerable reputation for moun- tingnationally important exhib- itions in support of contemporary and modern British painting. The current show ‘The Loneliness of Lowry’, further enhances this re- putation by invitingus to investi- gate that side of Lowry’s painting which is the least understood and the least known. Yet paradoxically, if we want to ‘know’ Lowry, these lonely seascapes, isolated tors and abandoned outposts offer us the best opportunity because they represent by far the largest part of his output. From the 1930s onwards, in increasingnumbers, Lowry pur- posefully replaced the industrial cacophony of manufacture with the rural silence of a windless day and in doingso he made the transition from the outer world of ‘others’ to an inner world of the artist. Before our eyes Lowry explores the predicament of loneliness with an intensity that could strip paint whilst at the same time applyingthat very same material in increasingly thick and deliberate layers. Each hillside or valley, buildingor being, seems sculpted, almost super consc- iously, by paint. These are land- ings are warm and primitive; many are abstracted bodies that can be read as landscapes. Today his work decorates big corporate spaces. The person who created them is as far from that world as it’s possible to get. His creativity thrives in the narrow, terraced house where he was born. Visiting Roger Cecil, I gaze at a painting, two feet long and broader than it is high. Its surface is a scumble of grey, black and maybe green. The only variation is a funnel-shaped plume of white. The source of the plume is almost invisible: a tiny steam engine which turns the abstract compo- sition into an exquisite Valleys landscape, childlike, generous and grand. He uses household emulsions, plaster fillers, glue and Zebo (TM), a blackingfor wood-fired stoves. His paintings have thick, hard sur- faces that he cuts, carves, scrapes and polishes. Some are finished like silk. Indulging in ‘spot the influe- nces’, I think of Alfred Wallis, Roger Hilton, Miró, Rothko, Bacon and Japanese lacquer work. One painting, kept in a corner, has acquired a patina of mould. ‘Don’t tell anyone’, he begs, clapping his hand to his mouth in mock horror. Roger Cecil is a natural sur- realist; he still knows how to play. He would have a whale of a time in the Steel Works. LOWRY ALONE C hristopher P Wood A RT at the COALFACE C aroline Juler L .S. Lowry ‘A Landmark’, c.1936 & ’A Begger’ 1965 both at Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Roger Cecil at the National Eisteddfod 8. GALLERIES AUGUST 10