The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Peter Lowe

by Dr. Alan Fowler, April 2016

This essay refers to Peter Lowe’s work in the current exhibition at Waterhouse & Dodd, London

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

When the work of the Systems Group, which Peter Lowe had joined in 1969, was shown in the Matrix exhibition in Bristol in 1972, it met with a mixed reception. Constructive abstraction, although well established in continental Europe, was still relatively unfamiliar in the UK, and some critics of the exhibition thought such works were cold and clinical. But a more perceptive reviewer wrote that although explanations of systems-based art might make it seem austere, in reality it was not. He went on to comment on the visual pleasure provided by the works’ clean elegance, and by its constructional craftsmanship. It is these qualities of clarity and precision, together with a relative simplicity of form and meticulous concern for detail, which characterise the whole of Lowe’s oeuvre from his first abstract works in the late 1950s to the reliefs, constructions, paintings and prints he continues to produce today in his London studio.

Peter Lowe, Drawing 56, 2000 Computer aided drawing (unique) 40.6 × 58.4 cm. Copyright Peter Lowe

Peter Lowe, Grey relief, 1982, Painted wood, 52.1 × 52.1 × 10.2 cm. Copyright Peter Lowe

Lowe’s interest in constructive abstraction began as early as 1955 when, at the age of seventeen and in his second year at Goldsmiths College, he visited Paris and was fascinated by a sculpture exhibition which included works by Naum Gabo, Hans Arp and Alexander Calder. He then studied under, and was greatly influenced by, Mary and Kenneth Martin, who had been members of the post-war Constructionists – the first British art group to work within the European constructivist tradition. Lowe’s own work in this tradition was first shown in 1962 in the A.I.A. exhibition in London, The Geometric Environment. Since then his work has been in some 150 solo and group exhibitions, many throughout continental Europe. His work is also held in several national collections, including Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Grenoble, Museum Stzuki in Lodz, Poland, and the Museum of Art in Vukova, Croatia. In the late 1970s, his close association with the continental constructivist tradition was strengthened when he became a member of IAFKG (Internationaler Arbeitskreis für Konstruktive Gestaltung, later known simply as Arbeitskreis), a pan-European constructivist art group, and took part in a number of their shows and projects, including the construction of a large outdoor sculpture in the Fulda region in central Germany. In Lagamas, in the south of France, he recently produced an outdoor installation which was mirrored in a musical work by the composer Eric Fischer. Both works were based on the same permutational system.

Peter Lowe, Hexagonal sequences, 2015, 90.2 × 90.2 cm. Copyright Peter Lowe

European artists to whom Lowe has often referred include especially Theo van Doesburg, and the two Swiss artists Richard Lohse and Max Bill. Bill’s concept of ‘concrete art’ (Art Konkret) is particularly relevant to Lowe. “We use the term concrete,” wrote Bill, “to refer to those works that have developed through their own intrinsic means and laws and that bear no relation to external phenomena.”

In this concrete sense, Lowe’s works are ‘whole’ objects in their own right, not abstractions from the visible world, and they reward being viewed as such. As this current survey demonstrates, the application of a relatively small number of basic geometric and arithmetic concepts or systems can produce a huge range of different objects and variants (in two and three dimensions) which are, in simple terms, very satisfying to look at and to think about. This is art for the eye and for the mind.

Dr Alan Fowler

April 2016

Peter Lowe, Triangles in a dodecagon, 2001-2004. Acrylic on canvas,111.8 × 111.8 cm. Copyright Peter Lowe.

Peter Lowe, White relief 2, 1975. Mixed media, painted wood and fibreglass, 81 x 81 x 13 cm. Copyright Peter Lowe

In addition to its directly observable characteristics there is a fundamental aspect of all Lowe’s work which underpins the visual pleasure which an initial look at his works provides. This is the concept of rationality – that every work is influenced by some form of systematised geometric or arithmetic logic such as numbering sequences, permutations, the progressive rotation of a repeated element, or the spatial relationship between one geometric form and another. While appreciation of a work is not dependent on knowing which system governs its structure, the recognition and analysis of such systems can enhance the viewing experience by adding a dimension beyond the visual. One of Lowe’s colleagues in the Systems Group, Jeffrey Steele, even suggested to the Matrix reviewer that in looking at work of this kind, “the unconscious registration in the human mind of a mathematical relationship plays a major part in aesthetic pleasure.”

Peter Lowe, Structural relief, 1966.  Perspex, 83.8 × 61 × 12.7 cm. Copyright Peter Lowe

Peter Lowe: Selected works 1966 to the present day |  Waterhouse and Dodd | London

21 Jun 2016 – 16 Jul 2016