While some people like to argue about where the line between art and design blurs, the Louisville-based designer Natalie Officer has found a simple way to slice that Gordian knot; put an art gallery in your new design studio.
Late last year, Officer took a chance to re-imagine and re-invest in her 10-year-old business, Natalie O Design, by moving into a much larger studio, located in Hope Worsted Mills, nestled at the point where Germantown, Shelby Park and Smoketown bump edges and blur.
Starting back in late 2018, Natalie O Design’s new studio has been home to O Art, a gallery made up of two medium-sized rooms.
Insider Louisville sat down with Officer in the spacious and beautifully appointed studio. From Officer’s impeccable design in evidence, one may expect her to be standoffish. Nothing could be further from the truth, she is open and friendly.
While her design sense will look attractive to fans of the suddenly-cool-again American school of midcentury modern made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright, Officer takes her inspiration from places all over the world, likely influenced by the years she lived in England and abroad.
“ (It’s a) clean, almost European design, I guess I would say. More of a Scandinavian vibe, more of a crisp modernism.”
She avoids becoming overtly political, but her meaning is clear when she talks about her decision to include an art gallery in the new location.
“In a political and social climate that is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me, I kept being pulled to ‘what can you do with your resources?’ For me, rather than throwing everything on social media I can … protest in the best way possible, by offering gallery space to artists.”
The gallery isn’t just her form of protest, it’s a way of growing Louisville, both for the sake of giving, but also for slightly more selfish reasons.
“I’d like to go down in the books as someone who elevated — in a positive direction — design and art in Louisville. At the end of the day, when the ink dries, that would be my aspiration because my children will likely be here,” said Officer. “They’re living their lives here. So in some small way, if I can create a cultural change or a cultural appreciation for them, I’ll feel a lot better.”
Kahlili is an assistant professor at the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute, and Dedas is an associate professor of art at Western Kentucky University. The two are married, raising their daughter in Louisville, while making art and guiding art students.
Officer had been hearing Dedas name around the art scene and approached him. From there she met Kahlili. Officer decided to continue her trend of exhibiting two artists at a time and offer them a duel show.
The connection between the bodies of work is more complex than their personal connection; both explore Louisville in their own ways.
Kahlili, a child of immigrants and a Washington, D.C., native, briefly described her current practice, which incorporates using pen, ink and collage processes in small accordion fold books.
“The best way for me to get to know a new city is to draw it. I do indeed walk around with a small sketchbook and arsenal of pens and papers with me to document my surroundings. This body of work includes 365 drawings, one a day for a year, all documenting Louisville.”
Dedas’ focus on the city is a little more conceptual.
“Memories of being a child and walking around on my father’s construction sites deeply influenced my concepts of building and destroying … Years later, these ideas have led to a focus on the ‘worker bees’ who act as a strong symbol for many things, one of which is the blue collar worker.”
The bees Dedas watches and recreates (he describes them as his collaborators) are from around the same neighborhoods Kahlili is exploring, neighborhoods that are undergoing change and construction almost constantly.
Using a retro type of printing called cyanotype, Dedas also brings to mind blue-collar construction workers and working architects, as the cyanotype chemical formula is also the “blue” from old school blueprints.
Though Officer’s studio, gallery, and business practices exhibit strong ties to Louisville, she’s still a businesswoman. Noting that she’s often asked by clients to find art for them to possibly purchase, she sensed a mutually beneficial aspect of O Art.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’m hopeful it’s a profitable business model. But for (the artists) and for me,” said Officer. “It’s here versus me saying ‘let’s go down to this gallery.’ So it’s more like a tandem of art and design,” said Officer.
Natalie O Designs, 1000 Swan St., Suite 4, is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but it’s a busy place, so you may want to call ahead just in case, (502) 333-5045.