Alan Lowndes 1921-1978 researched by Christine Stalley

Fishing Boat 1966 by Alan Lowndes
Fishing Boat Cornwall Council Schools Collection

Alan Lowndes was born in Stockport. His mother died when he was three and he was brought up by his father. As a child he loved drawing and aged nine stated that he wanted to be an artist.

He left school at fourteen becoming an apprentice decorator. At evening classes he learnt to use the old method of mixing linseed oil with primers, undercoats and ground coats, giving him an extensive knowledge of oil paint.

At nineteen he joined the army and served in Italy during WW11. He continued drawing and sent home pen and ink drawings of peaceful Italian villages. At the end of the war he attended an art class in Florence as part of the repatriation scheme preparing soldiers for civilian life.

Returning from Italy he continued for a while as a decorator, enrolling in an evening painting class under the guidance of Emanuel Levy. Soon after, he gave up decorating to paint designs on headscarves at Frank’s Design Studios. He learnt a lot about textile design from Julius Frank, who would help him considerably in his artistic development.

Power and Glory Alan Lowndes
‘The Power and the Glory,’(23” x 32” oil on canvas)

Lowndes rented a small studio on the top floor of Bamford House in Market Square, Stockport. He covered the walls with postcards of Matisse, Chagall and the Fauves. The Fauves were an important influence for the Expressionists. According to a friend, Lowndes spent a lot of time copying these artists.

In 1949 he painted, ‘The Power and the Glory,’(23” x 32” oil on canvas) a scene of a power station and a church that he could see from his studio window.  This painting shows his transition from an ‘English Water Colourist’ to a more mature Expressive Style.

His full time career as a painter started after he met the Manchester Crane Gallery owner Andras Kalman. Lowndes was a regular lunchtime visitor to the gallery and one day he asked Kalman to look at his work. Kalman exhibited several of Lowndes paintings in his 3rd exhibition alongside Lucien Freud and John Craxton. The Guardian art critic, John Willett wrote on April 1st 1950, Of the five painters exhibiting this month at the Crane gallery, Manchester, the most interesting are not Freud and Craxton but Stephen Gilbert and Alan Lowndes.

Often short of money Lowndes was fortunate to be represented by the Crane Gallery.

In 1952 the Crane Gallery held a Lowndes exhibition. Several paintings were sold to famous film stars and film directors. Charles Laughton bought many works and “opened” a Lowndes Gallery in his home in Los Angeles.

7343_alan_lowndes_p_z__63___st_ives_harbour
PZ63 St Ives Harbour Gateway Gallery

After these successes Lowndes worked for a time as a scenic artist at the Repertory Theatre. He hated the work. So in the summer of 1955 he visited St Ives for the first time. He stayed at Patrick Heron’s house at Zennor. His early Cornish subjects were quaysides, fishing boats and local people. However, he felt he could paint more in Stockport and moved back in 1956.

Later that year he went to stay with John Willett and his wife in Normandy. He stayed a couple of years.

lowndes-two-clowns
Alan Lowndes Two clowns one midget, Oil, Gateway Gallery.

He joined a circus for a month in 1959 and many of his works are of circus scenes. Later that year he obtained a place at the Karolyi Foundation in Vence in the South of France. Kalman was not impressed with most of Lowndes’ work painted at Vence. He wrote to Lowndes urging him to stay true to his successful style of Manchester painting. Lowndes agreed with the criticism. While at Vence he met and married Valerie Holmes. After honeymooning in Normandy they moved to St Ives.

They bought a small fisherman’s cottage at 18, The Digby and had three children. Lowndes painted well, inspired by the sea and the socialising at the Sloop. There were often twenty artists at lunch discussing art including Patrick Heron, Sir Terry Frost, Peter Lanyon and Willie Barns-Graham.

The Pawnbroker 1975 by Alan Lowndes 1921-1978
Alan Lowndes The Pawnbroker 1975 Lithograph on paper Tate Collection

In 1961 Kalman held an exhibition that was a great success and many pictures were sold. Almost all the paintings in the exhibition depicted Northern scenes or the circus. Several National newspapers made favourable comparisons with Lowry. Lowndes knew and admired Lowry but felt all they had in common was that they painted similar scenes in the same part of the country.

While in St Ives he became great friends with Sir Terry Frost. They had a great admiration for each other’s paintings. Frost was abstract in style and Lowndes was figurative. Frost described the brilliance of Lowndes’ figures stating that he could recognise all the figures in a Lowndes’ painting even if they had their backs to him, so exact was Lowndes’ observation of the way they moved and held themselves.

In 1970 the family moved again to Gloucestershire. Lowndes died there in 1978.

All his life he continued to paint the scenes of Stockport. In an unpublished article in 1978 he wrote, I paint people and scenes which can be recognised as such, even if the accuracy can be disputed, I have no interest in photographic detail.

Reference: Riley jonathan, Alan Lowndes. Construction Arts Ltd. 2010

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