Jeffrey thrives working in an old school, totally analog, highly laborious field. He is a sculptor, jewelry designer, and painter. When I met Jeffrey, he was with his business partner “Fred” Ann-Sofie whom we profiled here. His world is that of a classic artist atelier, except it is in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles. To observe the process of how the tiny jewelry pieces are made is to enter a world of obsessive attention to a level of detail that is hard to imagine at the scale it is done. This is a quiet, reflective place, thoughtful and intensely focused. It is hard to imagine a highly detailed hand made in wax only an inch long. This is the work of a master craftsman, someone with a lifetime of experience, who is highly attuned not just to the technique, but to the meaning of each human gesture.
It can take a considerable amount of time to reach a skill level such as this. Craft is a huge part of it. But more important is a vision, a point of view, and a desire to convey emotion, to make an impact in the world. As I watch Jeffrey work with tiny tools, coaxing a form out of bits of wax, it reminds me of so many of the people we have profiled here. There is a drive to push forward, to create something new, and to have an effect on the world around them. These people could be business people starting new ventures, professionals loving the work they do, community-oriented people helping those around them, or artists like Jeffrey. They all share a similar idea that this moment is something to be seized; they have something valuable and important to share, and they are not at all done yet.
You mentioned that although you have been drawing since the 2nd grade, you didn’t really have much exposure to art as a child. Was there one book or a painting you saw that influenced you?
When I was a child my sole exposure to art was a book that we had, Reader’s Digest Family Treasury of Great Painters and Great Paintings. This was my only exposure to art until I was about 23 years old. The only influences I had were within those pages. Rubens [had] a huge impact on me.
How was it that you taught yourself to paint?
I attended Art Center College of Design. I was pretty rebellious and I had instructors that wanted me to use experimental techniques that I did not want to do. For example, mix gouache with shaving cream. I knew this was foolish before I knew anything about materials. It seemed as if they wanted the students to produce work that was in vogue at the time and everyone’s work looked the same. I do work that comes naturally to myself, ergo that’s what I did. I never did like doing what others did. During the time I spent there I had two instructors that were the chairmen of both the Illustration and Fine Arts departments. I had problems with both of them and each one at different times attempted to have me thrown out of school. I prevailed. I was learning nothing from my instructors aside from perspective taught by a brilliant man. Everything else I would eventually teach myself and doing it at the time where there were no computers was really like flying solo. Fortunately, it all worked out. I do have a very bad taste in my mouth in regards to schools and most instructors. The web is also filled with people charging lots of money and doling out some very bad advice.
The Birth of J & F Jewelry
How did you get into sculpture, and especially why such small sculptures?
I’ve always wanted to sculpt but just never got around to it. I finally did make the effort to make myself a snake ring, as my father had given to me that his great uncle had made for him. When it was finally finished I was very happy. I had done it on my own with help from nobody. I had gotten some wax and carving tools and just went for it. When I had the model finished, Fred was here. She helped me with the design and made certain that I understood that when you are making jewelry, whether it be a ring, pendant, earring, etc., I need to be very aware of the feel of the piece when it is worn. When she saw what I had done and realized that I could actually do it, well, in typical Fred fashion she said, “Now here’s what you’re going to do next.” That was the birth of J & F. The size, I always tended to make things small, it was just natural.
Laborious Hand Crafting
What is the process of making a mold for the jewelry? How long does it take?
The first hands we made are the largest size. About 1.25” when finished. I would carve the wax using my hand as a model. Pretty difficult to do as I would have to continuously look, then pick up the wax and the tool and carve, get in the same position and repeat. Once the hand is complete I then have to “gut” it. Hollow it out. Initially, that would entail going from the wrist down as far as I could removing all of the wax and making certain that the thickness of the wall was no smaller than 1mm. That was very hard. You at times cannot see where you are internally and I had to go by feel. If I made a mistake the fix was a nightmare. I would need to replace wax and at times it was nearly impossible. I eventually figured out a way to split the piece in two vertically and I could see and reach areas better, but then I had to solder the two parts back together and fix the seam. Any way I did it it was a lot of work. Usually a good two months for a large hand.
Once the wax is finished I have it cast in silver. Then I pray. Anything can happen on casting. It only takes a second to have something ruined. If all goes well I then need to file and clean the “Master.” Once cleaned I have a mold made. Then I inject wax into the mold and then I go through the process of cleaning the wax before it gets cast. Again with the prayers. If it comes out well I then clean and file the casting. I then have somebody set stones, if necessary, to torch work, polish, and engrave our stamping.
“One of the things I have learned with age is that you learn more from your failures than from your successes”
It seems so laborious, almost medieval in difficulty the way you work. Why do you work this way?
If it’s easy, why do it? I am attracted to things that are difficult. One of things I have learned with age is that you learn more from your failures than from your successes.
I like to do things the old way. For painting, it’s simple. Support, brushes, and paint. I work from photos so I don’t have to deal with or rely on anyone and can work whenever I want.
For jewelry, I hate the thought of CAD (computer). I want to have the challenge which is great, especially that we make our own clasps (gives me something to scream about) and it’s extremely satisfying to have everything hand made. They are each unique as I touch each piece, they are numbered, they’re like little works of art. We call it “Wearable Art.”
“All of our pieces have a spiritual meaning along with a story and names”
The hand designs are incredibly expressive. How do you decide on what they should be?
Fred and I design together so we decide which piece we want to work on next. All of our pieces have spiritual meaning along with a story and names. Fred does a lot of research and goes into detail with each piece. She does all of this. I think we’re different than most designers as the story of the piece is not contrived and it is the same every time it is told.
How long have you worked with your partner Fred? What does she do in the business?
We’ve been doing the jewelry together since I believe around 2009. She designs and yells at me.
California Native Spending Winters in Sweden
You are a California native; why do you spend winter in Sweden of all places?
Well, it’s not every winter but I have spent a few. Fred is from Sweden and lives in the most beautiful area. I have a room there and have always been like a little excited kid when it snows, being a California native. I can relax there and regroup.
Do you do paintings, sculpture or other work when you are in Europe?
I just draw. No painting, and my tools are 110v so they won’t work there.
Would Richter be your favorite modern painter?
I don’t have a favorite but he is definitely one of my favorites.
Alone With Caravaggio in Rome
Have you seen a Caravaggio? What did you think of the work?
Yes, I have. I was fortunate enough to have lived in Rome for 6 months in 1989. When we went there I was told the only place to see any Caravaggio’s work was in the churches. It was late fall and I came upon a banner that read “Caravaggio” and something about a palazzo. I came to find that there was an exhibition in the Palazzo and when we went there was only a guard. Had the place to myself and could stand with my nose to the work. He would be my favorite “Old Master;” to me he’s art God. It was something I’ll never forget.
A lot of your painting seems to be about the feelings of your earlier life, the isolation, or am I completely wrong about that?
I believe you’re referring to the early figurative pieces. Yes, isolated, introverted, dark. I’ll leave it at that. With Fred’s help I did begin to introduce color and light into the pieces in the early 2000s. The still lifes I did from the beginning were colorful as I did toys and comic books, all my own from childhood. I always used what was mine and always found ways to insert myself into my work.
“Just look at a hand. Nothing is as complex from color, form, shape, detail”
Why are hands the hardest thing to paint and sculpt?
Just look at a hand. Nothing is as complex from color, form, shape, detail, add to that how they will be lighted.
What sort of music do you listen to while you work?
I’m a fan of the ’60s and ’70s primarily, some up until now and what I heard as a kid from my parents. Classical, the right Jazz… I’m open as long as it’s not Hip Hop or Rap. House music, absolutely not!
Where is your work available?
I left my dealer to work on a 4-year public commission in 2008 then started in with the jewelry. I have been working a bit because I can’t not paint. But I have not gotten myself another dealer yet but am working on another body of work so who knows… Right now, I’m my own dealer. email@example.com
J&F, (Jeffrey Gold and “Fred” Ann-Sofie Lakso) jewelry