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