Erika Gerber Halter had a show in a gallery in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee this Spring. It is a long way from the country of her birth, South Africa. In the following essay, she talks, in the first person, about her unique childhood, her love of nature and family and what inspires her and influences her to create the striking images in her paintings.
I was born in Nelspruit, South Africa on a tobacco farm in 1963. I grew up in Cape Town South Africa where we spent much time outdoors connected to nature. We did not have television until 1975. As children we were encouraged to be creative — in work and in play. We had the benefit of longer days with less technology and the luxury of less needed supervision and a whole lot less rules to live by. I believe all people are extremely creative when allowed to be so. I never knew I was artistic. I am from a very artistic family but I never showed an aptitude for art until much later in my life. I have enjoyed a deep appreciation for art throughout my life. Any form of art-fine arts, music, sculpture, poetry, culture specific art, architecture, theater, ballet, etc. I feel and have always felt broken without exposure to some form of art. It is to me the dimension that turns living into meaningful, motivated life — essential or essence. I never believed I had the ability within me to complete a painting.
My family was key in teaching me to explore my talents — to be willing to take risks and to literally stick my neck out to see and experience opportunities around me. My sister who is an artist convinced me to just throw paint on a canvas and play with it — without fear of judgment — when I indicated to her that I wished I could paint. More than anything, my family instilled a bond to nature in me — one which has become immensely important to me. We went on photographic safaris each year — we celebrated the oceans, the mountains, the trees and plants. We visited botanical gardens, picnicking by streams on Sundays and climbed parts of Table Mountain in Cape Town on many weekends. All of this required very little money. We were always exposed to the things money can’t buy. We were middle class South Africans surrounded by beauty. Life was not elaborate, but was filled with essence. My parents had six children borne in nine years. I pursued music and ballet as a child — never painting.
Only in 2009 did I discover what has been tapping me on the shoulder for some time. It was amazing how it snuck up on me. I was happily pursuing my career being a Pres/CEO of a credit card processing company. I found this longing to paint and secretly started to collect paint, some brushes, some sketchpads, etc. I hid this in my closet, since I was not ready to share this goal with anyone yet. I would come home and the first thing that came to mind to ‘de-stress’ was to sketch. I would sketch the dog, my husband relaxing, etc. Christmas 2008, my husband surprised me with every art supply imaginable. A beautiful easel, water, oil and acrylics — a menagerie of paint brushes, canvases, etc. I was in heaven. It was like a very happy dream. One that kept going and going. I started painting and have painted every free moment since. I had an art teacher come to my home each Saturday for a couple of hours to teach me how to use different mediums and to help me with basic art instruction and confidence. My art teacher, Jacqui Maycann has become one of my most important relationships. She knows me very well and she has the ability to bring out what’s screaming to get out. I can paint for days if allowed. I have been very fortunate that my art started to sell right away. I have painted over sixty paintings in 2009 and I have not a single painting in my home. They are either in restaurants, boutiques, buyer’s homes or galleries. I must say my husband was moved when I showed him my secret stash of art supplies.
I believe that each animal is as different from each other as each human is. I am trying to reflect this through color, texture and distinctive eyes and eyelashes. Many people look at animals as being different from each other mostly by species. My goal is to bring out the individual personality of every single animal. When on safari — it is plain to see — from elephants to crocodiles to deer. Each one has its own personality and are as different from each other as I am from you, or as one tree is from another. I use reds to show underlying passion — blue for power, etc. When I pick colors, I simply decide which stunning side of a particular animal that I viewed do I want to focus on. I get to a stage in a painting where the painting literally starts to paint itself — it is as if the personality of the animal determines the next stroke or color. It is so satisfying when you complete a painting — you stand back and it moves for you. Sometimes I see too much aggression — too little compassion. A simple stroke of new color seem to balance it out — maybe a little yellow — or green.
I believe animal personalities are hidden from most people. They look at a giraffe as a long neck without consideration of its delicacies and grace and even humor. I have found a tremendous amount of joy “coloring in” these unique personalities or exaggerating them. I also believe animals are therapeutic. I truly sense the peace they invoke in me with a simple glance even in art form.
I have five children and an intriguing husband. The youngest two are finishing high school this year. They keep me learning. Each one of them comes with a world around them — filled with surprises, excitement, challenges and joys.
Technology interests me. Not the physical workings of it, but simply the end result and life-changing effects. I can watch the sunrise in Africa any time I want to. I can be on safari in my own living room by watching webcams at the Kruger National Park in South Africa at www.sanparks.com. What technology does for karma, good luck or fortune is unbelievable to me. I could have a daily mentor without it costing me a fortune, in any country in the world simply through the click of a mouse. You put things out there on Twitter or Facebook and the right individuals are led to you and you to them. It is fascinating to me — yet another planet of discoveries.
I also have a business that I have owned and operated for twelve years. I started this business with less than $500. My business takes much of my time and my creative energy. The people relations in business are fascinating to me. The unique business owners that I deal with — each with a pile of dreams and creative intelligence. Such an honor to be a part of.
I am interested in the differences in cultures and people — the differences in sexes and sexual preferences. The different religious beliefs and the passion behind it. The human tendencies to want to convince. The fact that two individuals can come out of the very same womb and end up entirely different from each other, yet adoring each other.
Mostly I am interested in learning. The more you learn the less you know, because it opens up entire new worlds that you never knew existed. I absolutely love that!
My hope for the near future for my art is to isolate a few original pieces that would not be for sale, which I will use for charitable prints. Meaning I would like to sell giclee prints of them and donate a large percentage to a charitable organization. This is in the fetal stages of development, but I have large hopes that through my art I will achieve the following:
- An awareness of the unique nature of all individuals and animals regardless of race, species, sexual or religious orientation.
- Funding a charitable organization through my art while at the same time bringing the personalities of animals, humans and plants to people.
- An appreciation for art to the younger generation by appealing to a generic planetary love for animals and color.
- Evoking a lesser fear of the unknown to individuals by using art and color to celebrate the uniqueness, yet connect our similarities through the continuity of similar colors represented in all beings.
- I want to paint all the time.
My number one priority is to focus on my web visibility. I have recently commissioned someone to create the web presence for prints. She is an MBA graduate with a love for art and a keen eye for opportunity. She will be managing our web presence for prints.
I am painting as much as I can to improve my skill base and experience and am doing all I can to keep up with the opportunities at hand. It is an exciting time for me.
My mother, father and four brothers and sisters still live in South Africa. (Five of the six siblings are artists and or writers and the sixth one is married to an artist). I just returned from a month long visit to South Africa. My father turned 80. I took three of my children on safari for a week at the end of our trip. My children absolutely love being on safari. My youngest told me years ago that she has never felt as “alive” as when on safari. That feeling is what I am trying to represent in my art. I try to go each year to visit my family and to see the animals in their original habitat where I am the alien and where my senses all come alive the moment we arrive. Every human being should experience looking at a lion in the wild, hearing the sound of a fish eagle and facing a not-so-happy elephant. This is when you realize you are nothing but a small dot, if that, on this earth of ours, and that you’re rather pleased to be that small. One of my favorite discoveries was upon my return when viewing the animal shots I took, I enlarged a close up photo that I took of a male lion. I was six feet away from him when I took the picture. I saw my reflection in his eye. It was a life changing event for me. I don’t know why yet, I just felt something change within me at that moment.
To see more of Erika's work, visit www.erikagerberart.com.