Jan Kath From Bochum to the Himalayas

The names sound like titles from the pricey avant-garde scene, sometimes pompous, sometimes cryptic. “Verona Vendetta,” “Rug evolution,” “Hematoid:” The works of some ultra-hyped young star on the over-heated art market might well be concealed behind them, but they’re just – rugs. Although in this case the modifier is not in any way accurate.

Portrait of Jan Kath Portrait of Jan Kath | Photo: Lars Langemeier Jan Kath, Sliced Hematoid Red Jan Kath, Sliced Hematoid Red | © Jan Kath Jan Kath, a young native of Bochum with his feet on the ground and an international profile, designs carpets, but his pieces have nothing to do with the dreary image of rolled-up heirlooms gathering dust in the attic. This designer from the Ruhr region treats the good, old Persian rug with shocking colours, unsettling patterns, mirage-like pixel veiling. The 39-year old’s firm is “Jan Kath Design.” He shows his sumptuous textile works of art from producers in the Himalayas in, of all things, an old factory building, where the traces of decay create a rough, brittle beauty. Ruhrpott and the Himalayas, jarring imagery and traditional patterns: the core of Jan Kath’s extraordinary work - and evidently of his success as well - lies in the polarities of two worlds.

Expedition into the world of carpets

Jan Kath, Erased Classic – Rug Evolution Alcaraz Sky Jan Kath, Erased Classic – Rug Evolution Alcaraz Sky | © Jan Kath The parents of the award winning young designer without the slightest formal training in design, who prefers to appear in training shoes and in his youth jobbed as a techno event organiser in India, ran an established rug business in Bochum. Kath’s grandfather had already been dealing in the valuable pieces from the Orient that in earlier times were de rigueur in every patrician villa as sombre indicators of a representative household. Jan, the son with a weakness for music and foreign cultures, didn’t find this profession all that exciting, nevertheless learned how to run a business in his family’s firm – and then took off. A journey around the world as a backpacker with vague ideas about the future and no definite goal: the friendly young entrepreneur remembers how worried his parents were. No one could imagine that in the end, the convoluted paths of this prodigal son would end up in Bochum once again – in the rug business.

Jan Kath, Erased Classic – Rug Evolution Alcaraz Sky Jan Kath, Erased Classic – Rug Evolution Alcaraz Sky | © Jan Kath In Kathmandu, where he still has a portion of his annual carpet production of more that 20,000 m², Jan Kath met by chance a business partner of his parents’ company when he was in his early twenties. The business partner offered him a job; Kath was enchanted by the city in the Himalayas, accepted and rose swiftly in the company that specialised in Tibetan rugs. He met his wife on a trip to Mongolia in search of new production workshops, had his first son and returned to Kathmandu to take over the carpet factory with financial assistance from his father.

This was the beginning of “Jan Kath Design:” he designed his models himself to save on personnel costs and finally, after years of stagnating business with mainstream merchandise, fundamentally rethought the look and feel of rugs as such. His pieces lie the yachts of sheiks, in Rupert Murdoch’s New York penthouse, and in the Hawaiian villa of Anthony Kiedis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers singer. The price for an elegant, fair-trade piece made of wool, silk and nettle that a carpet knotter makes by hand in months-long work, runs at 1200 Euros per square metre or more.

Experiment and tradition

Jan Kath, Concept Jan Kath, Concept | © Jan Kath Jan Kath, who was accustomed to cosmopolitan flair from childhood thanks to his parents’ profession and sees himself as an intermediary between cultures, also explains his company’s boom as the result of a change in interior architecture and design. For years, leading Italian designers had preached the uncompromising coolness of polished concrete floors. “And all of a sudden, carpeting was back in,” he says – possibly because of a new longing for cosiness and comfort for which economically alarming times may have prepared the ground.

Jan Kath, From Russia with Love Jan Kath, From Russia with Love | © Jan Kath But Kath emphasises here that his experimental designs were by no means so well received by his upmarket clientele in the beginning as they are now, where he even has his own showroom in New York. The rabidly artificial “aging” traces of his “Rug evolution” series, the pale visuals of seemingly faded Renaissance patterns, the radical colours – the Bochum native’s treatment of the carpet, this symbol of bourgeois prosperity, borders on aggression. He develops his own, unique signature out of the fractures. Jan Kath once admitted in an interview that this aesthetic tour de force also involves friction with his personal history and the tradition of his family. This authenticity may well be a part of his success. And it makes works of art of his rugs.