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How a Norfolk artist painted all the Lowry pictures in the new Lowry film

PUBLISHED: 17:38 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:38 22 August 2019

Timothy Spall plays Lowry in Mrs Lowry and Son  Picture: Courtesy of Vertigo Releasing

Timothy Spall plays Lowry in Mrs Lowry and Son Picture: Courtesy of Vertigo Releasing

Vertigo Films

Look carefully at the paintings in Mrs Lowry & Son - they are more idyllic north Norfolk than industrial north.

Debbie and Frank GrayDebbie and Frank Gray

A set of remarkable paintings, of monochrome factories swathed in smoke and lines of matchstick people striding home, star alongside Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave in a new film about LS Lowry - but were created not in the industrial north, but idyllic north Norfolk.

Mrs Lowry and Son, which will be in cinemas across the country from next week, was produced by Debbie Gray of Burnham Market, with the Lowry paintings reproduced by her artist husband Frank.

He usually paints abstract landscapes and waterscapes in acrylics on aluminium. But to make the six paintings shown in the film, he learned how to paint like Lowry.

The finished paintings are so Lowry-like that they have already been mistaken for the real thing.

Lowry's Returning from Work as painted by Frank GrayLowry's Returning from Work as painted by Frank Gray

"Crowther Street was displayed in the reception hall for the closing party of the Edinburgh Film Festival and some guests did wonder!" said Frank.

He has worked in the style of many other artists, including Monet, Vermeer and Mondrian, but had never copied a Lowry before.

"I have an affinity for Lowry's environment as I'm from Lancashire and lived close to Pendlebury for several years," said Frank. "My priority was to understand and then reproduce Lowry's technique as accurately as possible. Interestingly though, as I read about Lowry and studied his work, I felt I was beginning to get a better understanding of what was driving him."

He was even able to get a feel for the pressure Lowry was under as he worked. "The time constraints were demanding and I often painted into the early hours, as Lowry did every night," said Frank.

In the film Timothy Spall plays Lowry and is shown creating Frank's paintings. Mrs Lowry & Son also stars Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave as the artist's demanding mother. The film tells the story of how Lowry worked as a rent collector, painting in his spare time and yearning for the approval of both his mother and the London art world.

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The great industrial artist lived with his mother in Salford, near Manchester, until she died, and the film focuses on Lowry's obsession with painting, and his desperation to please his mother. Today his paintings sell for millions of pounds but through the 1930s he struggled to create anything she liked, or to be taken seriously as an artist.

Debbie, who is managing director of Genesius Pictures and also originally from the north west, said: "I have always loved Lowry. There are so many levels to his art.

"He was an artist of the people and it took him a long time to be accepted by the establishment. It resonates with me. I loved the script for the film; it's just a beautiful film about a mother and son. There's a wonderful score and it stars two of the greatest actors. Tim really did take on the character of Lowry. He's an artist in his own right."

However, Debbie needed someone to paint a set of Lowry pictures for the film - and did not have to look far.

Frank said: "I'm relatively comfortable and competent in most mediums and styles, but don't ask me to do a fresco!"

The couple have lived in Norfolk for several years, but Debbie first fell in love with the county when she studied law at the University of East Anglia. She worked as a legal and business consultant on films including Sliding Doors and The English Patient before going on to produce shows for the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky. She developed and produced Martina Cole's Girl Gangs in LA and London, produced the 2014 film Northern Soul, featuring Steve Coogan, and last year worked with Jo Brand on the film of her novel The More You Ignore Me.

Debbie's next project will also be with Jo Brand, producing a black comedy about a family of vampires who abstain from blood.

Mrs Lowry & Son will be released nationwide from August 30. A preview screening at Cinema City, Norwich, on Tuesday August 27, will be followed by a talk, direct from the Lowry Centre in Salford, as the gallery curator and Timothy Spall discuss LS Lowry's life and art.

And on August 30 producer Debbie Gray will be answering questions after the 6.15pm screening, also at Cinema City.

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