"In The Close Distance": Jeff Lowe’s new solo exhibition
A solo exhibition by influential British sculptor Jeff Lowe at Pangolin Gallery in London has been announced for early 2020. Open from 15th January to 22nd February 2020, the exhibition will feature a series of Lowe’s large-scale sculptures alongside smaller works and prints that mark a shift in Lowe’s usual aesthetic through a change in technique, material and bold use of colour. Here & There asked the artist what prompted this aesthetic change. “I moved from London where I had lived and worked since attending Art School to Kent,” he said. “We bought and restored The Lime Works, an art deco industrial building and workshop of vast proportions. I think the building, surroundings and my ability to focus more intensely influenced the change in my work. I also decided to make sculptures which are more fluid, like a collage. The decision to introduce colour was another decision prompted by the move. I think I felt freer, less claustrophobic now.”
Jeff Lowe’s new series of large-scale sculptures is shaped from curved sheets of aluminium, folded in and around each other, forming abstract circular structures. Cutting silhouettes into the aluminium sheets allows the viewer to look through the outer ‘skin’ to an intimate space within. Works include Almira’s Aria, no.19 (2019), Alceste’s Aria, no.21 (2019), and Ottone’s Aria, no.20 (2019). These works explore volume, space and layering with architectural forms. The title of the show, In The Close Distance, encapsulates the impact of the works, which demand space and from afar appear as images, but as the viewer draws closer they become an experience.
Jeff Lowe has been making sculptures since the age of 15 and refused other compulsory art classes such as life drawing when he attended Leicester art school. Between 1971 and 1975, Lowe studied at Central Saint Martin’s under the tutelage of William Tucker, Philip King and Anthony Caro and was subsequently a student of ‘The New Generation’ of British sculptures. During his time at Saint Martins he was given the chance to host his first solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London’s Cork Street. He later went on to represent Britain at the Paris Biennale and has exhibited his work in group shows at the Hayward Gallery, Arts Council, British Council, Serpentine Gallery and Ikon Gallery. When asked what has changed in his approach to work and material, the artist mentioned, “I have worked with most materials over the years. Sometimes the materials change as a result of my ongoing investigation into all of the elements that make up sculpture, like space, volume, or structure. I always respond and have a dialogue with materials which takes me on a journey that surprises me. Certain materials will direct the sculpture in a particular way. I don’t want my sculptures to be restricted to an idea which, for me, might only be the starting point.”
Like most artists, Jeff Lowe’s inspiration comes from things in his direct environment. “This could be art, structures, landscape, music. I think anything can find a way into influencing and directing my work. Once I start working and choose the material and process, I respond very much to what I see in front of my eyes and work until the sculpture seems to have reached completeness. This is often when the sculpture seems to have taken over.”
Alongside this significant body of work will be small-scale works and jewellery, which Lowe insists are never maquettes for bigger pieces, but rather sculptures in their own right. Another new departure for the exhibition has been collaborating with Kipp Gresham at the Print Studio in Cambridge to create a series of new screen-prints. In line with the large-scale works, these brightly coloured works on paper explore layers, space, texture and have an extraordinary three-dimensional quality to them.
The shift in Lowe’s work can be attributed in part to his move to the Lime Works in Faversham in 2015, a former water-purification plant built-in 1937. The house which is constructed of two monumental cylindrical forms has been restored by Lowe over the past three years and is made up of living and working spaces where Lowe is influenced by the surrounding architecture and landscape. The building’s interior earthy tones which draw on the artist’s love for the Algarve and the circular forms of the house are echoed in Lowe’s sculptures.
But what is the meaning behind these colourful large-scale sculptures? “I have mainly made abstract sculpture, emphasizing the language rather than a recognizable image. I suppose I am trying to invent an image and an experience, in a way of responding to the sculpture which is a more physical response. My work also deals quite strongly with architectural themes, openings, windows, doors and interior and exterior spaces.”
Although maintaining the industrial quality that is synonymous with Lowe’s works, who has historically used heavy materials such as iron and steel with traditional welding techniques since the 1970s, these new works possess a playful lightness that is less common in the artist’s oeuvre. In this series, Lowe has decided to leave the joining process visible, exposing the bolts where the sheets of metal have been attached; in turn, the nuts and bolts become crucial to the sculptors’ visual language.
The artist also includes colour, most notably blues, pinky reds, golds and whites, a marked change from his earlier works. After the 1960s and the New Generation sculpture, Lowe along with many other sculptors felt as though the colour had been somewhat overdone. Consequently, he decided to use provocative colours which posed a challenge to his artistic technique, this challenge then became intrinsic to his creative process. Lowe ended up appreciating how the use of colour and contrasting tones enabled him to exaggerate the layering effect of his sculptures.
“This will be my second one-man exhibition at Pangolin. I think that in this exhibition all the works have a strong link. The sculpture, prints and jewellery share a similar aesthetic. It has been an incredibly productive 18 months and the offer of this exhibition to show these new works in a large gallery space came at exactly the right time.”