Jeff came to toy-making by chance when, as a last-minute decision, he joined the (now defunct) course at the London College of Furniture, under the tutelage of John Gould. This inspirational man was a toy-maker who believed fervently in the importance of good design, a tenet he drummed into his students.
That the lesson was thoroughly learned is evident from the results. Broadly speaking, each piece is either a convincing portrayal of an existing species, or a realisation of an imaginary one, and often a combination of both. Some are just a few inches in diameter, others several feet long or high. Exploiting a wide repertoire of wood-finishing techniques (including scorching, lime-waxing, painting, staining, sanding and scraffito) Jeff imaginatively evokes the mottling of plumage, the iridescence of fish-scales or the camouflage-patterns of beasts of jungle and plain.
"Wooden" can be a pejorative term, suggesting stiffness or inanimation. However, Jeff Soan's Wobbly Wooden Creatures defy this appellation as fully as it is possible to do. The fine craftsmanship inherent in his work is no rarity in creative circles: what is exceptional is to find it coupled with an imagination so attuned to possible subjects, as well as the sensibility to envisage (and achieve) their witty transmogrification into his chosen material. More subtly, each is a distillation of its subject: a portrait rather than a replica.
Jeff Soan is the latest torch-bearer of The First Gallery's burgeoning habit of holding exhibitions of automata (and long may it continue!). His distinctive brand of elegance and sophistication has made his work widely admired, and since appearing on TV - BBC's Handmade in 1988 and Collector's Lot in 1998 - he has been much in demand. We consider ourselves privileged to be showing his latest creations.
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