How Jos Devriendt Plays With Light and Shadow

Known for his playful ceramic lamps that resemble mushrooms, the Belgian artist-designer has crafted a sculptural language rooted in time and perspective. Here, he dishes on his painting background, how the tides influence his work, and the beauty in danger.

Jos Devriendt holding Vertical Rainbow in his studio in Ghent, Belgium.

What’s usually on your mind when you’re sculpting?

Nothing. I try to put everything away and focus on the end result, though I keep some molds out for inspiration. Sometimes my lamps take a month to build, others a year. I often redo them to achieve a precise color. It differs from painting, where mixing colors is easy. Sculpting requires reworking the glazes, which takes time. It’s a process.

Many of your lamps look like mushrooms, which make a fun visual statement as a group. What draws you to this particular form?

It stems from my search for an archetype that keeps its sculptural qualities during day and night. I can build into this form an electrical element that allows the sculpture to seemingly transform itself through light and shadow.

So that must inform “You Are Gold,” your latest exhibition at Demisch Danant.

Your experience of each lamp changes depending on the time. During the day, it’s illuminated from the lighting in the space, while at night the light emanates from the inside. It constantly changes from night to day.

You’re showing a new series of gold-plated ceramic and cast bronze lamps. What sparked your interest in these materials?

I’ve made ceramic gold glazes for 30 years, but this show marked the first time I’ve applied the glazes on unique pieces. Their reflective surface works like a mirror, reflecting everything around it while illustrating time and context. Since ancient times, of course, humans have treasured gold. Calling someone “golden” is special, so these lamps carry a deeper philosophical meaning.

Where do you normally source materials?

There’s an old man in Oudenaarde [in Belgium] who trained at a very famous Parisian foundry called Coubertin. He knows how to make glazes in almost every color. Younger artisans are starting to pick up on his techniques.

Inside Devriendt’s studio
Installation view of “Jos Devriendt: I AM I,” 2017, at Demisch Danant. Photo courtesy of artist and Demisch Danant.

Do you go out to Oudenaarde to work with artisans?

Not often, but we work together when I’m in town. It’s difficult because fewer materials are available. My atelier used to love this certain yellow glaze, but we learned that it’s slightly radioactive and now, it’s almost impossible to find. Many materials, like cadmium, are also off-limits for this reason. It’s strange, but the most beautiful things sometimes aren’t the healthiest!

I recently learned that you design furniture as well as lighting.

I worked for Bulo, a very famous furniture manufacturer, but ended up quitting. It’s frustrating when others try to change your designs. I also didn’t earn much money. I needed to find something else!

Are most of your lamps one-of-a-kind?

I prefer one-offs, though we don’t do special requests for clients. Interior designers tend to prefer custom pieces, but I’m strict about this—at a certain point, you stop recognizing your own work.

You trained as a fine artist and studied painting. Does your training impact that way you approach your ceramics?

I worked under the Belgian minimalist painter Dan Van Severen for three years. That’s how I met his son, the late designer Maarten Van Severen, who became a close friend and longtime collaborator.

What was Maarten’s coolest project?

Maarten trained as an architect. He built a house in Belgium, called the Boxy House, in which a tree grows through a central glass tube. It’s monumental!

Installation view of “You Are Gold” at Demisch Danant
Night and Day 216 and 205 by Jos Devriendt, on view at “You Are Gold” at Demisch Danant

I heard you frequently go back to Ostend, your hometown, and paint the skies.

I recently mounted an exhibition called “Space Horizon” at Pierre Marie Giraud. For that, I worked for an entire year at sea, painting the colors of the water, the night sky, and morning sun, which I translated into an ombre glaze for a series of mushroom lamps.

How do new technologies influence your design process?

We’ve entered an era where anything is possible. There are so many technical ways to make ceramics that are overlooked. But some of these new chemical combinations are disgusting! When I was young, I visited fine artists around the world and learned how everything was activated. My friends are always sending me books with new chemical formulas to try.

Have you used any of these in your practice?

For sure! I always discover something new. But overall, I’m becoming less interested. I believe that beauty lies in simplicity.

Night and Day 230 by Jos Devriendt, on view at “You Are Gold” at Demisch Danant
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