Interview with Jeff Lowe – “I see sculptors like poets”

2019-Jeff Lowe-Studio at Lime Works Faversham Kent-1, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019 FAD MAGAZINE
2019-Jeff Lowe Studio at Lime Works Faversham Kent-1, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

Pangolin London have recently opened renowned British sculptor Jeff Lowe’s second major solo show with them. The exhibition features a brand new series of both large-scale works, as well as smaller-scale works and jewellery, sculptures in their own right rather than maquettes for larger pieces. The show marks a shift in both process and aesthetic for the artist, a wonderful ode to the influence of narrative on the object.

An internationally acclaimed sculptor, Lowe has been creating work since he was 15 years old. He first came to prominence in 1974 with his first one-man show at the prestigious Leicester Galleries on London’s Cork Street when he was still a student at Saint Martins. 

Lowe- Lime Works-Garden-3, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019 FAD MAGAZINE

Lowe Lime Works Garden, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019 

In 2016, Lowe moved from his South London studio in Brockley to a unique art deco inspired structure called the Lime Works, on the outskirts of Faversham. Built in the 30’s, the former water purification plant consists of two funnels separated by a central tower – Lowe is essentially residing inside a giant sculpture. The artist explained that he and his wife Monica had particularly taken to the atmosphere and landscape of the Kentish, before they even got the opportunity to view the unique Lime Works space. 

Lowe- Lime Works-6 house and studio, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019 FAD MAGAZINE

Lowe Lime Works  house and studio, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

The body of work on view at Pangolin is a testimony to how his countryside move has influenced the way Lowe creates. Sheets of painted aluminium are wrapped around each other to create curved shapes with cutouts that reveal the object’s multiple layers, inviting the viewer to walk inside. Playful and light, these new works echo the shape of the Lime Works itself. Lowe also employs the slightly unusual practice of leaving visible bolts in his creations, a marked difference from his previous method of welding when he used heavier materials like iron.

So what exactly is Lowe’s intention when creating these abstract structures?

“I believe a work of art isn’t made but discovered. My sculpture is a balance between intention and allowing a dialogue between what I want and what the sculpture wants to be. Ultimately, it is always my intention to make something that holds my attention and has magic or something that even I don’t fully understand.”

Sculpture by Jeff Lowe at The Lime Works sculpture park, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

Sculpture by Jeff Lowe at The Lime Works sculpture park, © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

When he isn’t creating new sculptures, Lowe is continuously expanding his studio and workspace, creating new storage spaces for ongoing and future works. When I visited Lowe’s studio in Faversham, he showed me around and explained that he already has plans for the land he recently purchased surrounding the Lime Works. The same does not necessarily hold true for where his practice will take him, however:

“I tend to work in a series, I make [the] sculptures until I feel I have absorbed and understood everything. The benefit of ongoing work is that I am able to develop something new by returning to it with fresh eyes. It is impossible for me to predict what will come next or what I might be making in two years time – sometimes it is an organic change and sometimes it can be dramatic.”

Another new development in the artist’s work has been the intersection of printmaking and sculpture, with the creation of monoprints alongside the 3D objects. Collaborating with the Cambridge Print Studio, Lowe has managed to achieve a similar approach to his prints as his sculptures, melding the two disciplines in order to expand his technique and reinforce the idea of revealing different layers.

During his time at St. Martins School of Art, Lowe was part of the four-year Locked Room programme, one of the more radical programmes to have taken place at the university, devised and run by Peter Kardia until 1973. Lowe explained that students were divided into two groups known as the A course and the B course. Students on the A course were given a specific material to work with and locked into an empty studio every day for up to eight hours, in an attempt to confront them with a fresh understanding of their own practice. This approach didn’t work for Lowe  and upon finishing the radical experiment, he opted to carry on with the original medium-focused B course under the tutelage of Anthony Caro, the act of making being important to him above all else. Kardia, like Caro had worked as an assistant to Henry Moore, who a huge source of inspiration for Lowe, though he is contends he also praises the work of his contemporaries: 

“I look at a lot of [sculpture] – sometimes there is one aspect of a contemporary or historic work that seems relevant to me. This changes with time, because sometimes you can’t see or understand something until either you and your work are ready. I am happy when I see like-minded artists who are still involved in making; I admire those who keep going despite being considered unfashionable, unpopular or financially unsuccessful. It is not the artist’s job to make art that people like.”

Almira's Aria, no. 19 from the series 'In the close distance,' 2019, Painted aluminum, 118 cm (h) x 100 cm (l) x 86 cm (d), © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

Almira’s Aria, no. 19 from the series ‘In the close distance,’ 2019, Painted aluminum, 118 cm (h) x 100 cm (l) x 86 cm (d), © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

When I sat down with Lowe in Faversham to discuss his process, I asked what it really means to him to be a sculptor. Historically, sculpture has always been positioned somewhere on the outer edge of art.  Lowe’s take suggests a need for a balance between knowledge of the discipline’s original parameters, with an open attitude towards disrupting these conventions:

“Sculpture is a discipline [which] in some respects can be seen as old fashioned, but its strength is dealing with a definite language which sculptors constantly try to extend. I see sculptors like poets.”

In The Close Distance Runs at Pangolin until 22 February 2020. Other significant exhibitions include Hayward Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, Guggenheim, Venice, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Galerie Josine Bockhoven, Amsterdam, Robert Steele Gallery, New York, Bodo Niemann Gallery, Berlin, Waddington & Shiell Gallery, Toronto, Musee D’art Moderne, France and The National Gallery, Australia, Flowers Gallery, London, Whitford Fine Art, London, and Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

In The Close Distance Runs at Pangolin until 22 February 2020.Pangolin London, Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9AG

jeff-lowe.com | @jefflowesculptor

Jeff Lowe Studio at Lime Works Faversham Kent 1, 2019 © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

Jeff Lowe Studio at Lime Works Faversham Kent 1, 2019 © Steve Russell Studios, image courtesy of Pangolin London 2019

About Ksenya Blokhina

Hailing from Switzerland with Russian origins, Ksenya has lived in the UK for ten years. She has experience in the commercial art world as well as artists rights management. Currently working as Copyright and Licensing officer at Art UK, her writing interests include exhibitions of contemporary art around London and post- Soviet archive and memory.