Ernesto is not only an incredibly accomplished carver, jeweller and fine artist...he is a friend, he is family. There are no quick hi’s and bye’s with Ernesto, intended short chats will evolve into long discussions about anything from current events to Kombucha and spirituality. This is because Ernesto is a natural born storyteller and a passionately inquisitive artist, always searching for connections and ever ready to share his discoveries. We have been lucky enough to be a part of Ernesto’s creative journey for over fourteen years and his evolution has not slowed.
At present Ernesto’s creative practice involves intermittent performance art pieces around Auckland, building his family studio The Bridge Gallery in Samoa House and continuing to develop his relationship with Pounamu or in his words "the stone".
We visited Ernesto just after a huge studio relocation to a wonderful new space in Samoa House. Originally the headquarters for the Samoan consulate with distinctive green striped glass panels evoking the woven patterns of the Pacific. His studio space inside was stripped and built with the help of family and friends and can now accommodate not only his own Pounamu practice but his son Sebastian's jewellery workshop. They hope for the space to become a collaborative one where other artists can create and exhibit.
Ernesto was formally trained at the Fine Arts University of Bogota and is the fifth generation of goldsmiths and watchmakers in his family. His son Sebastian has embarked on his own jewellery making career with his popular label Frankie Ruins and his wee daughter Kamila (currently obsessed with pulling ‘tiki face’) seems to have the bug too, accompanying her Papa in studio and pretty much running the show. Not only does Ernesto’s practice support his own family but also the families of his well trained and very talented carving apprentices. The idea of family is intertwined in the business and in the everyday studio life at The Bridge Gallery.
Ernesto’s Pounamu carving journey has a very special genesis and it sparked the concept of the bridge. As a descendant of the Musicas tribe of Columbia Ernesto has inherited a cultural affinity with stone. However his indigenous culture has not only lost its original language but much of its history and tribal stories. Ernesto spoke of being aware of this as a young man but in an anaesthetised way, a visit to a Pounamu exhibition in Aotearoa became a defining moment for him. After witnessing a moving opening powhiri and seeing freshly cut fern leaves draping the cabinets of the exhibition he realised how alive Maori culture was, he saw a living breathing indigenous culture celebrating art in a contemporary setting. The state of his own Musicas culture was thrown into stark contrast which started a fire inside him.
Since then Ernesto has studied all aspects of the world of Pounamu in depth, training under the guidance of master carver Tangi Wepu and perfecting his art form. Ernesto’s journey into Pounamu has acted like a medium for helping developing a dialogue into his own Musicas heritage. Te Ao Maori has been his bridge into discovering more about himself.
Ernesto’s training has taken him all over the South Island where over time he has grown strong connections, long time friends and new family with local Iwi. He has been privileged enough to source some very special Pounamu stone throughout his career.
We look forward to Ernesto’s visits in store and seeing the incredible pieces he creates for Creative & Brave. Every visit brings new stone, new designs and a good lot of new stories. Each Pounamu carving crafted by Ernesto truly is unique and is created with care and sensitivity to the colour, grain and spirit of the stone. We congratulate Ernesto on recently completing his Fine Arts Degree at The University of Auckland and keenly await the incredible carvings that will come out of his new studio space.
Words and images by Tui Miller. Video by Amber Hankins.