Natalie Gerber enjoys the physical—the soft feeling of fabric between her fingers, the push and pull of a rubber-edged blade scraping across a smooth surface. It’s why the Calgary-based textile artist was so drawn to screen-printing, a technique that involves squeegeeing layers of ink over silkscreen. The creative process of dreaming up colourful graphic prints—inspired by everything from Gerber’s South African heritage to mid-century modernism, shibori and the Arts and Crafts movement—wasn’t terrible either. “I love the clean lines; I love the crisp imagery,” she says. “I love being part of the colour mixing and choosing colours. And just the play that comes along with that.”
Photo by Jager and Kokemor
A graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design (now the Alberta University of the Arts), Gerber crafts vibrant silkscreened linens that are splashed with arresting florals, minimalist lines and dynamic geometric shapes reminiscent of those native to her homeland. Coloured in shades of navy, red and mustard, many of these designs begin as sketches or are the result of playful experimentation (the Lotsa series, which includes textiles adorned with irregular circles and squares, is an “exploration of a whole lotta lines”), though Gerber is a big fan of collaboration, too. The KwaDabeka Township Project, for instance, was born when Gerber visited KwaDabeka, a township situated near her hometown of Durban, where she partnered with the Church Alliance for Social Transformation to conduct a surface-design workshop for residents. Participants developed imagery influenced by traditional South African shweshwe cloths, leading to a fair-trade partnership in which the artists were paid for the use of their works in a limited fabric run.
As with Gerber’s other linens, the fabrics ended up as drapery, pillow covers or striking upholstery for soft furnishings. “I am impressed with Natalie’s engagement and collaboration with a fellow community of artists from the KwaDabeka township,” says Janaki Larsen, Vancouver-based ceramicist, co-founder of Le Marché St. George and one of three judges in our Maker category. “To propagate, encourage and inspire making and design in others is a huge accomplishment.”
At cSpace King Edward, the Calgary co-working space where Gerber works and teaches screen-printing classes (she sees her time with students as another form of collab), the designer aims to minimize her environmental footprint. Since the launch of her practice in 2011, Gerber has employed inks that are free of harmful polyvinyl chloride and phthalates, and low in volatile organic compounds, which are known to contribute to pollution. Her decision to screen-print on linen considers Mother Earth, too: the plant-derived material doesn’t require pesticides to produce, and it’s highly absorbent and hypoallergenic to boot. “I don’t proclaim to be an eco brand at all… but I try to make very conscious choices about the materials that I use,” notes Gerber.
The artist admits that she strives for perfection, whether it be in the environmental friendliness of the physical process or the creative result itself. Over the years, however, she’s learned to embrace the occasional flaw. “I’m a very A-type person. I like things to be organized and well-executed,” she says. “Printing kind of forces me to step outside of that and to accept that perfection is not always what’s beautiful. And that slight imperfections are part of the innate beauty of a handmade product.”
photo by Jager and KokemorPhoto by Jager and Kokemor
Q&A with Natalie Gerber
What books are on your nightstand right now?
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, a beautifully written memoir, and Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning. It’s good to set goals, and I want to do the Comrades Marathon before I’m 45… or maybe 50.
Metric or imperial?
Growing up in South Africa we used metric, but since living in Canada I find I switch between both, depending on the project. With printing, it’s necessary to be precise with measurements—often it’s down to the millimetre.
If you weren’t a designer, what job would you be doing?
I think I would have been happy doing something outdoorsy… or maybe a rock star.
What’s your dream project?
Hey, Fluevog! Let’s collaborate–I’m all in!