PETER LOWEBritish b. 1938

Exhibited: A Rational Aesthetic, Southampton City Art Gallery (2008)

PETER LOWEBritish b. 1938

Peter Lowe was born in Hackney, East London in 1938. His very early work was in a realist manner, but his experiences of studying under Kenneth and Mary Martin at Goldsmith’s College in London had a powerful effect on his development and work. From the early 1960s Lowe rejected figurative art, instead producing geometric abstracts in a variety of different media. His compositions were always derived from rational mathematic systems, invariably very simple yet extremely elegant. Lowe made use of modern materials such as Perspex and well as more tradition media. He has produced many wall based reliefs – the style for which he is perhaps best known - but he has also produced free standing sculpture, paintings, drawings and prints. As Alistair Grieve has noted; “Scale is important. Though Lowe has made large, ground based works, most of his reliefs are of a modest, domestic scale. They are reassuring objects to live with, beautifully made, precisely ordered, accessible and constantly intriguing.”

Despite the use of mathematics and geometry, Lowe rejects the notion of his work being cold and detached. In fact, he feels that the use of simple guiding principles creates an ‘art for all’ which is the very antithesis of the rather exclusive concept of individual genius as proposed by the Abstract Expressionists. Lowe’s art is a rejection of grand and overblown statements, and a return to simplicity and purity. He maintains that an understanding of the systems employed in constructing his work is not necessary to the enjoyment of the piece, although he writes and talks very eloquently on the subject. He is also at pains to stress that without the decisions made by the artist as to the form and the system, the object would not exist as a work of art. Mathematics and geometry are merely tools with which to construct an artwork, employed in the same way a portraitist might refer to a sitter to compose an image.

The use of geometric forms in abstract art is not necessarily new - one thinks back to Malevich and Mondrian for instance - but the application of those principles to produce wall based reliefs represented a bold departure in Post-War Britain. Lowe was part of a generation of British artists working alongside Kenneth and Mary Martin. Other notable constructionist (as opposed to ‘constructivist’) artists included Jeffrey Steele, Gillian Wise, Anthony Hill and Malcolm Hughes. Together, these artists were among those who formed the Systems Group in 1969. The Group first exhibited together at Amos Anderson Museum in Helsinki. An exhibition titled Matrix opened shortly afterwards at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, followed by an Arts Council exhibition titled Systems which was held at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1972/3. Although the Group disbanded in 1976, many of the members remained on good terms and continued to exhibit together. Lowe was one of a number of the Systems Group artists to be included in the seminal Pier+Ocean exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1980. This important exhibition also included work by Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Carl Andre, but perhaps more importantly gave prominence to the pioneers of constructivist art from Europe such as Ad Dekkers, Peter Struycken and Jan Dibbets. Despite the considerable museum attention the Systems artists garner, they were, and perhaps still are, far more highly regarded in Europe than within the UK.

Lowe taught at Leeds College of Art from 1962 to 1964, where he worked with the noted teacher Harry Thubron. He also taught at the Barry Summer School in Wales in the 1960s as an assistant to Kenneth Martin. In 1965 Lowe became a lecturer at Goldsmiths and stayed until retiring from teaching in 2000. His work is included in most of the major European collections devoted to Concrete and Constructivist art and many UK collections of post-war art, most notably Tate Britain. He has exhibited at many notable British galleries, including Annely Juda, Laurent Delaye and Osbourne Samuel. He was a major contributor to A Rational Aesthetic at Southampton City Art Gallery in 2008. The catalogue for that exhibition contains a very informative transcription of a conversation between the artist and the curator (Alan Fowler).

Lowe lives and works in South London.