This article first appeared in The Times South Africa on Thursday 9 November 2017
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 Prouvé, historical furniture has long piqued his interest and his pieces that touch on heritage respectfully redefine what has gone before, without paying tribute to any particular style. He is uncontrived and a complete individual.
A lot has been written about Mr. Jenkin and I’m not about to interfere with the narrative, but suffice to say that anyone with an eye on the local design industry is well aware of his pedigree. A ‘Joburger’ turned Capetonian, he is based in a workshop-come-warehouse in Maitland where he is 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.
Gregor’s passion for material exploration is obvious and the quest to find new manufacturing methods is an ongoing one. He explains how, with low tech behind him, he designs componentry and shops it out. He immerses himself in the process and his end products are “dramatic and sombre’’ he says, that in blue-black, a non distracting colour to which he’s become very aligned as it “reads very nicely in silhouette” and places surrounding pieces on a level playing field.
An architectural under graduate, Gregor began as a forger and toolmaker, worked at Ralph Lauren in London as a shop fitter and then made the move back home to open his own studio. Over the past eleven 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 reimagine it and shift the context. Like acacia tree that inspired a sun umbrella, or the herd of wildebeest that motivated the geometric Migrant Migrate installation. Utilitarian architecture and incidental form are also huge drivers for him. His lines are sleek, without any obstruction and are devoid of ostentation. Inspiration is found in multiple sources, from cityscapes and nature, to military memorabilia, buildings, designers like Piet Ein Eek and negative spaces.
But it is his tables, some as long as limos, that hold centre stage both in South Africa and abroad where he has an impressive footprint. His Cape Table is a veritable piece de resistance and a top seller locally and at the Conran shop in London. William Kentridge, with whom he has collaborated several times, was the first person ever to buy one. When he 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.
The upcoming 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 during the build.
Gregor Jenkin likes to challenge himself and the market through the way he perceives contemporary design. In a precinct as international as the Silo district, 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 presently – it’s a snapshot of what’s current in Gregor Jenkin Studio now.”
Be still my covetous eye. I guess I’ll have to settle for a bottle of oros, for now.