Weekly Summertime Artist Focus: Ernst Gamperl on Artsy

Summertime Artist’s Focus: Ernst Gamperl

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Ernst Gamperl at work in his atelier in South Germany. Photo Bernhard Spöttel


From the hundreds of years a tree has grown, to the process of preparing the wood and then turning the vessels, time takes on new meaning in the work of sculptor and master wood turner, Ernst Gamperl. For over 20-years, he has applied a rigorous process of repetition and detail that has given him a deep intuition and appreciation of wood and his craft.

Ernst Gamperl turned wood sculptures within Spazio Nobile – Season XXV – Interlude, Group Show, 2023. Tapestries on the left by Jacqueline Surdell, Mist of Lavender, 2022 with Quentin Vuong, Mercure Mirror, 2023 and on the right by Vera Vermeersch, l gioco dell’ombra e del sole, 2022 with Jesper Eriksson, Fossilized stool. On the window, Garnier & Linker, Diatomée, Sculpture Vases in molten glass, ed. 20 in 20 colors for Spazio Nobile. Photo by Margaux Nieto

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German artist Ernst Gamperl creates large-scale wooden vessels, expertly crafting the material to reveal and express natural details and textures. In this careful and considered process, knots, bulges, splits, indentations, and scars are elevated, shown to be integral parts of the material’s history and lifespan. Never imposing his own will upon the wood, Gamperl instead works with the material to demonstrate the innate beauty in its flaws.

Ernst Gamperl turned wood sculptures within Spazio Nobile – Season XXV – Interlude, Group Show, 2023. On the wall: Marialaura Irvine, Oplontis, rug or tapestry – Bela Silva, Sens-tu que je suis là, 2023 glazed stoneware sculpture and detail of the Long Chiseled Oak Bench by Kaspar Hamacher. Photo Margaux Nieto


Pushing the boundaries of his own craftsmanship, Gamperl was awarded the LOEWE Craft Prize in 2017, and since then has pursued a quest for even more essential and archaic forms and surfaces. His one-of-a-kind project, “Tree of Life”, in which he transformed a tree into 67 beautifully wrought vessels that embody his excellence in woodturning and in experimental patinas, has been touring in Europe and in Asia (Korea). Spazio Nobile has represented Ernst Gamperl since 2020.

Exhibition View Spazio Nobile – Season XVII — Threads of Nature, Group Show, 2021.  “Wood is a living material. For me it is one of the most versatile, elegant and beautiful natural materials, and it is enormously diverse – every timber requires a different treatment. Most timber smells very good even while working with it. I also keep an eye out for trees that have succumbed to the wind and weather or have had to be felled for other reasons.” Ernst Gamperl. Photo Margaux Nieto

The immanent expressive power of the material and its grain, lines and colouring, its softness or hardness, its compact heaviness or paper- thin transparency, are underscored by his treatment of the surfaces: waxing and polishing, scrubbing out the streaks or carving filigree parallel grooves, contrasting smooth and shiny with rough-hewn and scarred.

Ernst Gamperl surrounded by his 67 vessels from his lifetime project Tree of Life which is a touring exhibition around the world. Photo Bernhard Spöttel

“I’m talking about traditionally crafted objects, which acquire an increasingly beautiful structure through constant use. It is the soul of the material. For the Japanese, it is the love of nature which is intrinsic to Buddhism, and particularly to Shintoism. They worship the divine in nature and this is what makes my wooden pieces so special to them.”

Spazio Nobile & Ancienne Nonciature, Le Sacre de la Matière, 2021. Le Sacre de la Matière took place at the Ancienne Nonciature at Grand Sablon in Brussels, the former Embassy of the Vatican. This exhibition brought together 10 artists from Spazio Nobile whose lively and resilient minds meet at the heart of matter, between unity and duality, the very symbolism of the number 10. Most of the artworks were unique or limited editions. Gamperl’s vessels were installed in dialogue with Hamacher’s burnt oak beams in the former Chapel of the Cardinal Pecci who became later Pope Leo XIII. Photo Jörg Bräuer

“…To me, there are strong parallels with pre-Christian Germanic culture, the worship of pagan gods and holy trees. That fits in well with the Asian cultural and religious contexts, which are also informed by the culture of emptiness. And that brings us right back to the vessel – U-tsu-wa – vessel, emptiness, universe. All these cultures are united by this love of beautiful objects.

Photo Bernhard Spöttel

I try to make this visible and intuitively tangible, using very simple means – with just a lathe and a piece of fresh wood. I let the material guide me and I read it with every move – from an early stage like the pre-cutting by chainsaw or the first cut at the lathe.


It is as though my hands were one with the wood. It is an ongoing dialogue which continues throughout the creative process, from the initial cutting stage at the tree right up to the finished, fully formed object.”

Spazio Nobile At Home, Inner Landscapes, Tervuren, 2021. Gamperl’s sculptures are displayed in the veranda of the 1900s villa. Photo Margaux Nieto