When most people encounter Natalie Bork after seeing her artwork displayed on an Interstate 77 billboard, the first question they ask is, “What is that?”
Bork’s billboard is a close-up photograph of formed aluminum panels coated with layers of paint that are “carved away,” revealing layers of vibrant color beneath. Though the original three-panel series, or triptych, is now housed at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Student Union, the photographic relief has been magnified and displayed along I-77 at Billy Graham Parkway.
Bork is one of 20 artists featured in a public “art-vertising” project called ArtPop. The initiative was created by the Arts & Science Council and is presented in partnership with Adams Outdoor Advertising, which donates available space.
When Bork is not painting, sculpting or creating installation art, she teaches art to high school students at Charlotte Country Day School. Her current calling is fitting, since a teacher initially inspired her to create art professionally. The educator purchased an abstract floral composition Bork created as an 8-year-old. She was hooked.
Today, Bork has created a formidable career as a contemporary artist. She has exhibited widely and has won first place awards in both the North to South Juried Exhibition at Green Rice Gallery in NoDa and the Siemens Juried Exhibition at the Charlotte Art League. She was an Affiliate Artist at the McColl Center for Visual Art last year, and she was selected for the IX Florence Biennale in 2013.
Her ArtPop entry was one of 15 selected by a jury. The remaining five were selected by popular vote. Each board will rotate throughout the city until the end of the year.
For her students, the billboard has helped connect the dots from the Upper School fine arts instructor, Mrs. Knight (her married name), to Natalie Bork, the artist.
“Teachers are real people,” said Bork, who has taught art for the last 15 years. She started at Charlotte Country Day School in 2004 to begin their three-dimensional art program. “(The kids) realize that I teach because I can, not because I cannot produce art.”
Teaching is still a learning experience for Bork, who often finds inspiration in her students. “Sometimes they use tools differently in a more creative way,” she said.
Tools and material are important in Bork’s process of making paint “skins.” She first finds a piece of aluminum, wood or glass and then adds paint one layer at a time. The process can be lengthy, as each layer must dry completely before the next application. Some pieces feature 20 layers or more.
“I intentionally don’t take photos,” Bork said. “I just do it and forget about what’s underneath.”
Then carving begins. She painstakingly delves using razor blades, linoleum carvers or pneumatic wood carvers to reveal different colors at each level. A closer look at her process and finished work is available on her website, www.nataliebork.com.
Bork tries to recycle and repurpose paint as much as possible. The same piece can feature expensive oil paint, chalkboard paint or her daughter’s leftover tempera paint for vibrant color. Sometimes she mixes them to create multimedia paint. This thriftiness can create unpredictability when carving time comes, but challenge is part of the process.
“I have always been that way,” said Bork, who had few resources growing up. “I learned to be extremely creative.”
Bork said the revealing of layers in her work signifies how the past affects the future.
“It’s like having an injury on a part of your body that forms a scar,” she said. “No matter how many layers of time go by, it’s still there.”
The piece now memorialized on billboards is called “Everglades,” so named for the destination of an undergraduate canoeing expedition she took. As Bork and her companions traversed the water, a storm erupted. The wind whipped the swamp water into treacherous white-capped waves as she struggled to paddle to safety.
“Fighting the ebb and flow of the water was terrifying,” she recalled. “And beautiful.”
Like much of Bork’s work, “Everglades” resembles a topographic map, and now serves as a landmark for everyone on the road.
Find more information about the project, including an interactive map that shows the location of each board and featured artist, at www.charlottecultureguide.com/page/ArtPop.