It all started with a raw piece of narra. JR Queyquep was visiting his provincial home in Ilocos when he came upon wood scraps leftover from construction, immediately taken by its color and grain. With no prior experience in woodcrafting, he came back to Manila and purchased several tools, getting to work with the aid of reading up and watching Youtube videos. His first ever project was a letter holder he made for his mom. That day started his love for woodwork joining, and the former banker could not be happier. It is now a few years later, and Grit & Bevel is just over a year old, but the simplicity and sophistication of each handcrafted mirror, stool, table, dresser, or the odd hanging sofa, showcases such maturity and restraint. Bearing a deep respect for the beauty of each piece of wood, JR does not alter its characteristics, carve elaborate designs, nor does he use any nails or screws to join the pieces together. Rather, he designs his work around the shape and coloring of each item he makes, applying the intricate Japanese art of joinery to create natural fittings, grooves and locks where the separate pieces join together. He may use wood glue to strengthen the hold, dab beeswax or oil to enhance the grain, or torch the finished product to play with color, but he believes in keeping things as natural as possible. He describes what he does as collaborating with wood, seeking out its beauty while making it functional. This results in minimalist pieces that are actually as strong as they are beautiful.
What started off as a little woodworking project soon turned into a workshop, with JR at times ordering tools he needs, but most of the time customizing his own. The room is neat, tools neatly arranged on one wall, not a speck of sawdust on the floor or the surfaces of the tables, with us later on finding out that he created his own vacuum to suction scraps off the floor. Scraps of wood in varying sizes are propped against each other in the deeper recesses of his workshop, while unfinished pieces in the process of completion are hung overhead or pushed to their own corners. We later on see that he works the way he keeps shop: neat, methodic, deliberate, and with utmost patience.
JR acknowledges that joinery is tough, and that very few create furniture and pieces this way in this instant, mass-produced, modernized age. This makes learning and working harder as well as more time-consuming for him, but it is this same challenge that draws him in. He learned to make use of his hands, to anticipate how wood will move and expand, to be precise with his joineries. This results in uniquely-shaped pieces that follow the length and shape of the wood. The present-day Geppetto, he is always searching for wood that speaks to him. He works with narra, walnut, mahogany, and acacia wood, always on the lookout for scraps he can repurpose and give new life to.
JR muses that he has gone through different kinds of jobs, from corporate to business, from formally trained to self-taught, and at a young age realized he would rather work on something he could see himself doing throughout his life, even if it means working doubly hard. Grit & Bevel came to life starting off in exhibits and pop-up fairs. What was once a collection of mirrors, cheese boards, and paperweights, soon became custom orders of dressers, cabinets, shelves, and racks. JR deals with the handiwork, while his partner Joi Tinio deals with the social aspect of the business, talking with potential dealers and customers, and maintaining their social media. Now that his work is becoming more in demand, he never compromises his art and aesthetic for a quick peso.
Bearing a deep respect for the beauty of each piece of wood, JR does not alter its characteristics, carve elaborate designs, nor does he use any nails or screws to join the pieces together. Rather, he designs his work around the shape and coloring of each item he makes, applying the intricate Japanese art of joinery to create natural fittings, grooves and locks where the separate pieces join together.
In the end, he is grateful that he started off with very little knowledge and no influences, as he was able to find his own artistic sensibilities without anyone imposing or injecting their ideas into his work. He learned along the way, making countless mistakes, working on instinct, and developing the technical skills needed for his kind of work. With each piece of art that his hands bring forth, he aims for Wabi-sabi, which is a Japanese world view that accepts imperfection, befitting of his craft, the asymmetry, the simplicity, and the desire to remain as natural in all its processes. In a way, he is his own raw scrap of narra, raw and unshaped, but filled with tremendous possibilities.
Follow them @gritandbevel on instagram to learn more about their pieces.
Text- Jenette Vizcocho
Interview- Jenette Vizcocho and Dane Raymundo
Photography – M Espeña