Book Review — The Working Mind and Drawing Hand of Oliver Jeffers
by Allan LEONARD
17 October 2023
Oliver Jeffers is known for his charmingly illustrated children’s books, with a sense of play and wonder. He is less known for his fine art work, which is arguably underappreciated.
This included me, and as Jeffers himself remarks in The Working Mind, this lifting of a veil of ignorance has empowered me to look at the world anew.
This is due to Jeffers’s application of visual literacy — “the developed ability to understand pictures and communicate through them”, as Sharon Matt Atkins describes in one of a selection of guest contributors. She continues by explaining that Jeffers’s career in making books was serendipitous, in that he realised a book was a better format for a particular story that he wanted to tell.
Jeffers is a storyteller: “We are no more than the stories we tell, we are told, and are told about us.” Jeffers tells stories in manners he sees fit, whether through illustrated books, dipped paintings, murals, or mixed media (such as in his Jesus and Hidden Variables series or the painted globes of Map Works/Where We Are In The World).
For me, the essence of Jeffers’s genius is revealed in the surrealist images in the Hammer Paintings, diptychs of a hammer and nail first lying on the floor then with the hammer fixed to the wall by the nail: “We see the before, and we see the after, but that impossible step in between the two eludes us.”
This beautifully authored book is a masterpiece of visual communication — carefully considered images and text truly present the working mind and drawing hand of a remarkable artist. It provides a sincere insight into Jeffers’s thought process as well as challenging us to engage with our own imaginations and creativity.