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Celebrating the Ordinary: Day 3

Strolling along the beach on a foggy afternoon last month, it occurred to me that the Morro Bay oceanfront would not be entirely out of place in an early 20th century industrial landscape by English artist, L.S. Lowry. Not unlike his famous “matchstick” people, swarms of beachcombers are dwarfed by three towering smokestacks every bit as recognizable to tourists as Morro Rock, the Gibraltar of California. Every summer, I am surprised to see those smokestacks still looming at the edge of Morro Bay – incongruous reminders of the paradox of progress, rising up in the shadows of Morro Rock, once sacred ground and now sanctuary to the endangered Peregrine Falcon.

In 1978, far away from the California coastline, L.S. Lowry’s work reached the masses, when two years after his death, “Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs” went straight to the top of the British charts. By some duo I had never heard of, this quintessential one-hit wonder brought with it a perfect opportunity for teenagers like me to learn that paintings and drawings were as vital to history as the maps and textbooks we pored over in school every day.

In articulating his vision as an artist and the moment when the mundane became extraordinary, Lowry recalled:

One day I missed a train from Pendlebury, a place I had ignored for seven years – and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company’s mill … The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out, and I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture . . .

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