Reconsidering Peter Lowe of “the Neglected Avant-Garde”

Jul 8, 2016 10:42PM

It’s been nearly 10 years since Peter Lowe, one of Britain’s most important constructivist artists, last showed his work. The most recent occasion was “A Rational Aesthetic: The Systems Group & Associated Artists,” a seminal exhibition held at Southampton City Art Gallery in 2008.

Lowe was connected to the Systems Group, an artistic movement active in England during the 1970s. Its members approached abstract art in an unusually rational way by using geometric and mathematical systems as the basis for their work. Though the group disbanded only a few years after its creation, its influence has been widely noted across mainland Europe. Yet the artists who formed the Systems Group haven’t received quite as much attention in their native England. Indeed, despite his impressive oeuvre, Lowe is part of a coterie of artists whom English art historian Alastair Grieve has called “the neglected avant-garde.”

Now, in a sweeping retrospective at Waterhouse & Dodd in London, Lowe is getting his due. “Peter Lowe: Selected works 1966 to the present day” considers his long, diverse career, including a wide range of works unified by themes of geometry and precision. His early Perspex constructions rest near recent paintings and drawings, while Tetris-like sculptures of painted wood pair with the architectural blueprint-style Drawing 45 (1991) and the board game–like design of Drawing 56 (2000).

Still, Lowe doesn’t consider his work to be cold or overtly scientific. As he has often explained, you don’t need to comprehend the underlying systems of a given piece to enjoy its beauty. In other words, his mathematical precision is a tool, not a key. After all, there’s simple pleasure in viewing such clean, crisp paintings, drawings, and sculptures, some evocative of childhood games, others of bright flowers or proliferating organisms viewed under a microscope.

While most of Lowe’s earlier works are rendered in black, white, and gray, his more recent pieces explode in an array of hues. They’re a celebration of color—proof that mathematics need not be gray or dull, that geometry can feel alive.

—Bridget Gleeson

Peter Lowe: Selected works 1966 to the present day” is on view at Waterhouse & Dodd, London, Jun. 22–Jul. 16, 2016.

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