Known for taking traditional forms and using the latest digital and robotic processes to reinvent them, Neal has earned a reputation as an innovator. From his studio in Bethnal Green, he crafts everything from individual pieces of furniture to bespoke commissions, with clients as far afield as New York and Australia. His work straddles the boundaries of sculpture, craft and functionality. His collaboration with Zaha Hadid won him the Wood Awards last year. His exhibition Out Of Hand opened this September at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
How do you describe yourself?
I’m a trained craftsperson, but I think of myself as a designer-maker. All of those things are interdependent though, one can’t survive without the others.
Where do your ideas come from?
From the process. Usually, my way in is to think around a technique. Sometimes I will take a new technique and think about how I could redesign a traditional piece of furniture, bringing a new form to something familiar. I use CNC (Computer Numerical Control), where digital designs are used to programme a robotic cutter, giving precise and intricate results.
Which other makers do you admire?
There are lots of people doing exciting things in the field, Max Lamb, Sebastian Cox, Studio Swine, Peter Marigold.
What do you like about the East End?
The vibrancy, the cross-cultural mix, the sense of community, the markets. I’ve lived in the area for years and just moved the studio from Dalston to Bethnal Green.