Jeff Soan's Wobbly Wooden Creatures

Although their simple technology derives from South American folk-toys, the animal sculptures of Jeff Soan owe no debt to current makers. His "bestiary" includes farmyard animals, birds, giraffes, elephants, tapirs, seals, numerous fish and other denizens of the deep. He works in a variety of woods, sometimes incorporating other materials where appropriate. Most pieces feature his characteristic "flexi-construction", giving a sinuous motion when picked up, but some are simply tactile, or meant to rock on a surface. With his love of wood for its own sake, Jeff's innate feel for natural forms is evident in his smaller solid sculptures, which just beg to be handled.

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.

16-23 March 2002

Daily 2-7pm including Sunday 17; other times and after 30 March by telephoning first.
Private View Friday 15 March 6-8.30pm
Open Morning Sunday 24 March 11am-2pm

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Some of the Exhibits from Jeff's Medici Show May 2001

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For links to related organisations, see Viewpoint Arts Online on the
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