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German craftsman lets nature do its work

Ernst Gamperl uses his skills learned as a carpenter to make art
Apr 04,2018
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Wooden bowls and vases of different shapes and sizes are on display at Ernst Gamperl’s solo exhibition now being held at Theground, central Seoul, by Gallery LVS. [Gallery LVS]
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[Gallery LVS]
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Ernst Gamperl, a German wood craftsman, holds one of his works on March 28, explaining why his works have uneven and asymmetrical shapes. [YONHAP]
At a craft exhibition, wooden bowls, vases and sculptures are a dime a dozen. Without closer observation, onlookers may think that the works of German craftsman Ernst Gamperl look ordinary, or even crudely made. Yet, inside each and every piece by Gamperl is a little bit of nature, which the artist has infused with his hands.

At Theground, a newly-built space which will be used as a private office space after the exhibition ends on April 28, visitors can witness the magical work of Gamperl at his second solo exhibition held in Korea. Organized by Gallery LVS, an art gallery based in southern Seoul, the exhibition features 65 works by wood craftsman Gamperl, ranging from small wooden bowls to a wooden vase that’s almost as tall as a person.

Contrary to some exhibitions that do not require visitors to know any prior information to enjoy the works, there are certain things that must be kept in mind before taking in the works by Gamperl. The artist’s driving force in his creative process is “the dialogue with nature,” as explained during a press conference on March 28.

“You can use digital tools to create something, but the crux of the problem is that if you decide something on the computer and then bring it to the real form, the material has to be industrialized. The nature of the material must be taken out, and it loses its natural behavior. We as craftsmen can have a dialogue with the material, and the result is more human.”

Gamperl’s dialogue with his material starts by getting his hands on trees that have not been cut down by men, but instead have been knocked over by forces of nature such as storms or floods. Once he has the perfect tree to work with, he starts right away - something completely different from other wood craftsmen, who usually wait for the wood to dry in order to start working with it or buy dried wood to begin with.

The drying process begins for the artist after he has carved out the shape of the work, which is the reason why his creations have uneven surfaces and even twisted forms that would have been considered incomplete or imperfect by other artists. But for Gamperl, the twisted forms of his final products are the definition of perfection.

During the drying period, the wood does not stay in the initial form cut out by the artist, but changes its shape in all different ways, so that even the artist does not know how it will end up until it has finished.

“The natural shrinkage is the movement of the tree, which inflates and changes form,” said the artist. “It’s like giving it a new life after its death.”

Awarded first place at the 2017 Loewe Craft Prize, Gamperl is not a trained artist who majored in art in college, but instead a carpenter who made furniture and who has not had any higher-level education.

Everything he has learned he did so through his own experience and his own hands, leading him to dozens of international prizes.

Gamperl has created works such as “72/2017/150” - the 72nd work he created in 2017, made out of a 150-year-old oak tree.

“My work is always in progress,” said Gamperl. “If I made something but didn’t like it or wanted to change it, then I put it back in water and shape it again. It’s this movement and dynamism with the environment that’s important about my work.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]

Theground is a 10-minute walk from Gyeongbok Palace Station, line No. 3, exit 3. The building will be used as an office space after the exhibition ends on April 28. The exhibition is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesdays to Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays and Mondays. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.gallerylvs.org.