Ernst Gamperl: Finding Beauty In Imperfection

  Ernst Gamperl with his 'Tree of Life 2' oak sculptures

Ernst Gamperl with his 'Tree of Life 2' oak sculptures

Supporting and nurturing craftsmanship has always been one of Carmen’s motivations as an investor, mentor and entrepreneur, and spurred the launch of CoutureLab, which gave artists and designers a platform to showcase their work.

One such artist was Ernst Gamperl, whose work celebrates the beauty of wood by allowing inherent branches, knots and fractures to determine the final shape of his sculptures. And it is this unique approach to his craft that has secured the artist a loyal following, as well as multiple accolades, including the inaugural Loewe Craft Prize that was awarded just two months ago by the Loewe Foundation in Madrid.

Originally from Germany, Ernst Gamperl, who now lives and works in Northern Italy, apprenticed as a carpenter before turning his hand to art. Self-taught, he has been working with wood as a medium for over 30 years, and over the course of his career has continuously developed his art form.

Initially working with freshly cut wood, he now exclusively uses wet wood, keeping pieces under water during the creative process before allowing them to dry naturally. And while exotic woods were once his medium of choice, he now prefers to work with European woods such as maple, beech and Italian olive tree, but principally oak.

  Vessels, 2016 / Photo: Bernhard Spoettel

Vessels, 2016 / Photo: Bernhard Spoettel

Most recently, he has also been adding clay powders and minerals to the surface of his pieces, which allows him to achieve tonal variations in finished works, while a new focus on hollowing has seen the range of his craft expand to include objects with smaller openings.

Gamperl’s work is defined not only by his ability to reveal the power of wood’s natural form and its inherent yet imperfect beauty, but also by his underlying principles - rather than cutting down centuries-old trees to fuel his passion, he uses wood from trees that have been felled for natural reasons, and as a conservationist farms and plants trees too. He also names his works, which can take up to five weeks to complete, after the age of the tree from which the wood came, as well as the year they were constructed, to allow viewers to not only contemplate the structure of a piece, but also its origins.

  Ernst Gamperl with Sheila Loewe and Loewe Creative Director Jonathan Anderson / Photo: Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA.com

Ernst Gamperl with Sheila Loewe and Loewe Creative Director Jonathan Anderson / Photo: Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA.com

It was this dual design signature that captured the attention of the jury judging the Loewe Craft Prize. Jury President Anatxu Zabalbeascoa, commenting on Gamperl’s entry, Tree of Life 2, said, “This is an object which is both beautiful, and teaches us the value of recycling. It is based on rescuing fallen trees and bringing nature back to life with exquisite skill.”

Chosen from almost 4,000 submissions, Gamperl’s winning piece, a carved and clay-treated hollowed oak vessel, was hewn from a 300-year-old oak tree that had been uprooted in a storm. “The oak is naturally deformed – it’s a mixture of perfection and imperfection," said the artist. “The parallel grooves I have made add a deepness to the piece. For me, craft is about that personal union.” 

Ernst Gamperl’s work can be seen displayed in museum collections worldwide, including The Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg; Collection Issey Miyake in Japan; The National Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris; and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Tree of Life 2 is part of a global touring exhibition of the Loewe Craft Prize finalists’ works, which can next be seen in Tokyo in November and then at Collect Saatchi Gallery in London from February.