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On the CUSP Series: Meet ceramic designer and curator Jan Ernst

The multi-disciplinary artist shares more about exploring ideas and importance of functional art and collectible design

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By Piet Smedy | October 14, 2022 | Art

‘Through design we get to solve problems, be they practical, aesthetic or social.’ A powerful and true statement from curator and ceramic designer, Jan Ernst.

He explains, ‘Good design has the power to elevate how we perceive and experience our immediate environments that have an impact on our psychological state. Through my work, I try to imagine how an object will add value to a space and how people will respond to it before I begin to make it.’

When describing his process, he states, ‘I spend many hours exploring ideas, doing research and mulling over previous designs. It is important for me to have an honest expression through my work. Clay allows for that because it will leave even a fingerprint if not attended to. I would like my work to pique people’s curiosity and make them question their way of thinking – these pieces create the best sort of conversations.’

And mentions the challenges that creatives face by explaining, ‘As a designer and maker, I am aware of the challenges from a conceptual and manufacturing point of view. Collectable design focuses on storytelling and craftsmanship, something that has disappeared with mass-produced designs. The role of collectable design, then, is to safeguard the skills, knowledge and stories passed on through generations, to reinterpret and celebrate these ideas in contemporary ways and keep them precious.’

‘I position the work I create in the collectable design realm. Every piece I create must tell a story about a landscape or a natural phenomenon that inspires me. I then take these stories and turn them into functional designs.

The “Womb Table Lamp 03”, part of the Womb Lighting Collection that I launched in Brussels in May this year, focuses on the dual concepts of birth and light, inspired by the Cederberg Caves that provided shelter to the first people living there.’

Womb Table Lamp 03, Image: Karl Rogers

His work continues to evolve in both form and function, as he describes, ‘The “Walking” candelabra, on the other hand, is an evolution of my Forest Candelabra Collection, which is inspired by the mystery, intrigue and unknown of the forest. In both cases, the idea came first since I knew I would be working with clay. Finding a balance between the aesthetic and pragmatic is not always easy; it requires interrogation and compromise until a happy medium is found.’

The Walking candelabra, Image: Karl Rogers

‘Collectable design, unlike pure industrial design, can touch on similar philosophical and conceptual topics as fine art. The result might be functional in nature, but the intellectual processes are the same. In fact, there is an additional component of interrogation that fine artists do not have to deal with. I was drawn to collectable design because storytelling is pivotal to my work. The idea of creating a limited number of objects is appealing because it ensures the work stays precious and one-of-a-kind.’

This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of House and Garden SA