Exhibit heroes Gregor Jenkin's cutting-edge furniture designs

09 November 2017 - 12:51 By Allison Foat
Gregor Jenkin.
Gregor Jenkin.
Image: Supplied

Gregor Jenkin likes Oros. Which is not surprising considering his affinity with the things of yesteryear. Whether it's the Cape Colonial aesthetic, Shaker minimalism, or the metallurgy of Parisian Jean Prouve, historical furniture has long piqued his interest. His pieces that touch on heritage redefine what has gone before, without paying tribute to any particular style.

A lot has been written about Jenkin and anyone with an eye on the local design industry is well aware of his pedigree. A Joburger turned Capetonian, he's based in a workshop/warehouse in Maitland where he's assisted by a small team he values greatly. He works hands-on, using aluminium, plywood, Valchromat, ceramics, cast iron, brass and his preferred medium, steel, creating pared-back pieces that are an exercise in precision engineering with an air of refinement.

Jenkin's passion for material exploration is obvious and the quest to find new manufacturing methods is ongoing. He explains how, with low tech behind him, he designs componentry and shops it out. His products are "dramatic and sombre'', he says, rendered in blue-black, a non-distracting colour that "reads very nicely in silhouette" and places surrounding pieces on a level playing field.

An architectural undergraduate, Jenkin began as a forger and toolmaker and worked at Ralph Lauren in London as a shopfitter before he moved home to open his own studio.

Gregor Jenkin's ‘Migrant Migrate’ installation.
Gregor Jenkin's ‘Migrant Migrate’ installation.
Image: Supplied

Over the past 11 years he has crafted a diverse body of work that aside from furniture includes jewellery, lighting, utensils and once-off commissions. If he sees something he likes, he'll re-imagine it and shift the context. Like an acacia tree that inspired a parasol, or the herd of wildebeest that motivated the geometric Migrant Migrate installation (pictured above).

Utilitarian architecture and incidental form also drive him. His lines are sleek and devoid of ostentation. Inspiration is found in cityscapes and nature, military memorabilia, buildings, designers such as Piet Hein Eek, and negative spaces.

But it is his tables, some as long as limos, that hold centre stage both in South Africa and abroad. His Cape Table is a top seller locally and at the Conran shop in London. William Kentridge, with whom he's collaborated several times, was the first person to buy one.

Gregor Jenkin's Cape Table is a top seller locally.
Gregor Jenkin's Cape Table is a top seller locally.
Image: Supplied

When Jenkin exhibited at Design Miami in 2011, he was the first African to do so and he has a permanent exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

His new solo exhibition at Southern Guild Silo Gallery marks only his second showing in South Africa after the first in 2007, and is inspired by the ''incidental shapes of heritage steel" that were salvaged from the Silo site while it was being built.

Jenkin likes to challenge himself and the market through the way he perceives contemporary design. He makes no assumption that people will know his work so this exhibition will "combine a little bit of everything - an overview of work and new things I'm interested in making at present - it's a snapshot of what's current in Gregor Jenkin Studio now."

Gregor Jenkin's solo exhibition is at the Southern Guild Silo Gallery in Cape Town from November 9 to February 11. 

• This article was originally published in The Times.


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