Referred to by his neighbours as “Lord Havelock”, Sculptor Jeff Lowe has become a public idol and sturdy businessman within south London’s art community. Part-benefactor and part-landlord, he is a father to his two children as well as a community of local artists.
Lowe is smartly dressed in jeans and a loosely buttoned shirt; he stands proudly on the porch of his self-created Ashby estate in Brockley. Sweeping his silvered hair and gazing with a steely expression much like the metallic statues of his sculptured designs.
Born in Lancashire, Lowe has worked and lived in London since the early 1980s. At 21, he became the youngest ever man to hold a one man show at London’s renowned Leicester Galleries and represent Britain at the Paris Biennale.
As young as 15, Lowe knew he wanted to go into sculpture. “I’ve always been a maker, ever since I was a boy. Both my mother and father were not keen on art and were against my idea of wanting to become a sculpture artist.”
Against his parents’ wishes, Lowe attended Leicester College of Art in 1970, before moving to London to study Sculpture at Central Saint Martins – an intense ‘locked room’ art course. On his time at the leading London art college, Lowe recalls: “Creativity was not tolerated, we were locked into a room forbidden to talk, with interrogative teachers, who would put bags over their heads with cut out eye sockets”, he laughs, “they would scream at people!”
It was in 1987 that Lowe would start his biggest project. He began to buy properties along Havelock walk, at the time a derelict area of Brockley. He purchased numbers 14 and 16 in 1987 for £98,000, then 13-15 for £175,000 in 1988. Numbers 30-32 were bought for £50,000 in 1995 and 26-28 for £62,000 in 1996.
These threadbare warehouses were then converted into live/work units which were sold to local artists. Lowe recalled: “Regarding my previous work on the Havelock Walk, gradually Lewisham came round and made it a conservational area, then more artists moved in and it became a thriving artists community.”
Lowe has always been influenced by architecture and interior space, which is incorporated into his sculptured construction designs. “People would describe my work as quite architectural. I prefer that way of building, I like changes and I don’t like too much to be known in advance. A lot of the buildings are built around things I find and incorporate so it’s a very sculptural way of building.”
“Making sculpture in a serious fashion is about trying to push something that hasn’t been done before. If you write, you could write in a really dull way, but the way you might re-structure it with words, is the creative part. I like to make what you don’t know, rather than what you do know.”
Lowe, who has lectured at Goldsmiths, believes that artists are oversubscribed and it is difficult to find high quality art. “Personally, I would prefer to see less art students and more art schools that are better equipped with more teaching”. Laughing, he adds: “If you want to be creative, arts school is probably the worst place you want to be.”
Speaking on teaching at university Lowe says: “I like teaching students who are in their first year and what I liked was to actually set certain projects where I was a helper, but in a sense trying to inspire them, and show them that once they got over a certain point in terms of making, suddenly it’s like, ‘wow this is all open to me’, whereas now if they don’t have that, you will never do it as it seems to be such a hurdle to get over, I think that’s a shame.”
Shying away from the spotlight, the artist now prefers his work to be seen in the comfort of his own studio. “I’m not a great one for public commission, I like to be more in control, I tend to make things that I want to make and then they get exhibited,” says Lowe. But his work still remains central to the public eye.“I had built a sculpture in support of the 2013 Olympics, which was three meters high and five meters long placed in Barclays square.” He sheepishly reveals a grin, a reassurance that underneath the glamour, he is still down to earth. “Lord Havelock” aside, no amount of the fame will not warp this artist’s creative vision.