Sculpt­ing ar­chi­tec­ture

At just 30, Hitchin’s Lee Sim­mons com­bines sculp­ture, de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture to cre­ate re­mark­able pub­lic works

Hertfordshire Life - - CONTENTS - WORDS: San­dra Smith

Hitchin de­signer’s rad­i­cal vi­sion

Aport­fo­lio which in­cludes high pro­file com­mis­sions in the heart of Lon­don is an un­ques­tion­able in­di­ca­tor of artis­tic skill and pro­fes­sional suc­cess. Par­tic­u­larly when their award-win­ning cre­ator is only 30 years old. Lee Sim­mons has no time for bask­ing in suc­cess how­ever and says he is driven by a de­sire to democra­tise sculp­ture: ‘I don’t want to take the in­tel­lec­tual high ground. One thing about pub­lic ven­tures is it democra­tises art; you’re not hav­ing to see some­thing in a gallery con­text. You shouldn’t be spoon fed. I don’t think you should have to be told about art.’

With the vi­sion for his of­ten mon­u­men­tal pieces cre­ated us­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy does he re­gard him­self as an artist, an ar­chi­tect or a de­signer?

‘Since the age of 15 I’ve had a fond­ness for graphic de­sign. There’s al­ways been a graphic na­ture to what I do, but I’ve come to the con­clu­sion I’m not an artist – though it’s en­joy­able to be nim­ble and on the pe­riph­ery of cer­tain dis­ci­plines.’

Raised in Steve­nage, Lee gained a First Class Hon­ours de­gree in met­al­work and sil­ver­smithing be­fore un­der­tak­ing an MA in the sub­jects at the Royal Col­lege of Art. From his re­cently-built stu­dio in the gar­den of his Hitchin home he re­calls one of his ear­li­est pub­lic works: ‘My first taste of do­ing some­thing sculp­tural was a small wa­ter fea­ture for the prayer gar­den of St Mar­garet Clitherow pri­mary school in my home­town, com­pleted in the sum­mer of 2010. A lot of the cast­ing for the bronze base was un­der­taken whilst I was at the RCA in the sculp­ture de­part­ment. The project was a good test­ing ground in terms of ex­plor­ing shapes and forms.’

As his works have grown in scale they’ve reached a wider au­di­ence. In 2014 Gran­dioso, a sculp­tural gate in Wim­pole Street in Maryle­bone, was then the big­gest sculp­ture Lee had taken on. This was a spring­board to projects such as last year’s mon­u­men­tal Quadri­lin­ear, a 15-me­tre high in­tri­cate web of steel ris­ing through the atrium of the Schoen Clinic on the cor­ner of Wig­more Street, the idea for which evolved from old Lon­don maps. ‘I’ve got a bit of a fas­ci­na­tion with maps and to­pog­ra­phy which felt quite fit­ting on such a prom­i­nent cor­ner. I like to delve into the de­tail. On a re­search ba­sis I try to in­vent my­self as much as pos­si­ble into the lo­cal ver­nac­u­lar, walk­ing around sketch­ing things, tak­ing pho­to­graphs as some sort of con­tex­tual ref­er­ence.’

‘I try to in­vent my­self into the lo­cal ver­nac­u­lar, walk­ing around sketch­ing things, tak­ing pho­tos’

The de­sign stage quickly fol­lows with Lee then pro­duc­ing 3D work­ing mod­els which are, he states, ‘some­thing tan­gi­ble, borne from my fond­ness of mak­ing’.

Re­cently, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with one of the coun­try’s most prom­i­nent mu­si­cal the­atre com­posers prompted an­other in­stal­la­tion.

‘I was in­tro­duced to Madeleine and An­drew Lloyd Web­ber a few years ago,’ Lee ex­plains. ‘They like to bring the­atres back to their

for­mer glory.’

With the façade of the Lon­don Pal­la­dium some­what ne­glected, Lee’s brief was to cre­ate a wall that cel­e­brated the the­atre’s iconic per­form­ers. Lee spent months trawl­ing through archive im­ages; his cho­sen ones taken through a dig­i­tal process and pix­i­lated to cre­ate strik­ing portraits that were trans­lated to metal sheets. The re­sult­ing Wall of Fame fea­tures names such as Cilla Black, Ron­nie Barker, Bruce Forsyth, Des O’Con­nor and Tommy Steele.

‘A lot of my work tries to make the best use of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy’

‘A lot of my work tries to make the best use of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy,’ Lee ex­plains. ‘The 2D draw­ings were read by a ma­chine that can cut holes. It took six months to cut all of them. I took tra­di­tional portraits and turned them into graph­i­cal ab­strac­tion.’

His reg­u­lar medium, stain­less steel, is both ro­bust and low main­te­nance with a re­strained matt fin­ish.

Lee says his pres­ence at the point of in­stal­la­tion of­ten stim­u­lates con­trast­ing emo­tions. ‘On the one hand it’s ex­tremely ex­cit­ing but I’d say I’m more daunted. Fit­ting the Wig­more Street sculp­ture was tight, we had to make a few lit­tle ad­just­ments.’

Given the very pub­lic lo­ca­tion of many of his cre­ations, does their recog­ni­tion equate to per­sonal ful­fil­ment?

‘I sup­pose sat­is­fac­tion for me comes mostly from hav­ing some­thing in the pub­lic do­main that can be ap­pre­ci­ated by all. I get a thrill from be­ing ex­posed to a wide au­di­ence and have com­pletely opened my­self up to be­ing cri­tiqued by ev­ery­one. Sec­ond to that is the mak­ing process.’

De­spite an ad­mis­sion that am­bi­tions have rarely been im­por­tant, he ap­pre­ci­ates hav­ing his work in the cap­i­tal and senses other, in­ter­na­tional cities would be a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. But he has a sep­a­rate agenda, too.

‘Since leav­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion I’ve been on a nat­u­ral jour­ney. Now I want to stand back and re­flect how to move for­ward. Maybe I’ll cre­ate my own scaled down body of work which is more about self ex­pres­sion.’

To view a showreel of Lee’s work, go to lees­im­mons.com

The Lon­don Pal­la­dium Wall of Fame. The portraits were made by punc­tur­ing stain­less steel over a six-month pe­riod

ABOVE: Quadri­lin­ear from the roof of the Schoen Clinic. The sculp­ture was in­spired by old maps of the Wig­more Street areaRIGHT:

From left: Des O’Con­nor, Tommy Steele, Made­laine and An­drew Lloyd Web­ber, Jimmy Tar­buck, Wil­nelia Forsyth and Cliff Richard with Lee in front of the Pal­la­dium portraits

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