Darla Bjork has been a member of Soho20 for fifteen years and currently serves as President of the Board. In addition to being a painter, Bjork is also a psychiatrist who has had a private practice in New York City for many years. Her work has evolved from abstract portraits that reflected people she worked with in mental institutions to abstract landscapes influenced by her childhood in rural Minnesota and now by the view of the Catskill Mountains from her studio in Woodstock, NY. I was able to visit Bjork in her Tribeca studio on July 10th.
You can find Darla at her website, darlabjork.com; her upcoming show at Soho20 (October 1st through 26th, with an opening Thursday 10/3); and the current Women in Charge show, in which she is featured.
AR: Can you talk about what you’re working on now?
DB: This series is I think going to be called Windows– I’m still debating the titles. These are following my mother’s death, which was a year ago in June. She was 95, so it was time for her. But even at that age there’s a special significance when your mother dies. It’s an homage to her, but also it’s exploring where she went. She went off somewhere, and these are my attempts to picture that. Literally picture it. She was quite religious, so for her she knew where she was going; it was never a question in her mind. For me it’s much more complex, unfortunately or fortunately. But anyway these are images based on that.
AR: Can you describe your studio practice?
DB: I have this studio, and then I have a studio in Woodstock, New York. I’ve done all this work up there. It’s really affected by the landscape in the country. I’m originally from Minnesota, and when I get out into the country I can really feel a difference in the sense of the space and the landscape. Even in these I can see light filtering through trees. My last series was water– a lot of landscape imagery. Now I mainly paint when I’m up in the country, which is mostly long weekends. So it’s not every day. Some people religiously get into their studios every day and spend a couple hours, but I have to do it when I feel ready to do it.
AR: What brought you to Soho20?
DB: I was a founding member of Ceres, which was sort of the third women’s gallery in the city. We modeled Ceres after A.I.R. and Soho20. Eventually it was time for me to move on from that, so I applied, and felt it was the right match. I’ve been there for I guess 15 years or so by now– maybe longer. I really like the gallery space we have now in Chelsea. I like the energy.
AR: What do you consider to be the importance of artist-run spaces and women’s spaces?
DB: Well the number of commercial galleries that show women is maybe slowly improving, but not much. For museums it’s maybe the token woman here or there– you know, someone very well known. You can still count them on one hand statistically. So places like Soho20 give women the opportunity to show. And in a gallery that is artist-run, no one tells you what to do. If I’m doing a certain series and decide to change to something else, no one says “oh you have to go back and stick to what you were doing before,” which I know is often the case. If an artist starts doing a certain kind of work and it sells, the dealer is going to want that kind of work. In our gallery we don’t have that pressure; I have a freedom to really explore and move in whatever direction I want. Over the years I’ve gone from doing screaming faces to this kind of work, which is what I wanted to do.
AR: Do you have any advice for a young person trying to pursue a career as an artist?
DB: Do what you want. Expose yourself to as much art as you can. Go to museums and go to all the shows. And just trust your own instict. For me the trick with painting is knowing when to stop and know when I have to keep pushing. It’s like writing– you keep reviewing and rewriting and at some point you have to say this is it. You have to develop that kind of sense for yourself. For some people they get it early, for some people it takes years. everyone is different.
AR: Are there any shows or exhibitions open right now that you would recommend?
DB: The Jay Defeo at the Whitney, if it’s still up. She was a San Francisco based artist did this huge sort of sculptural painting called “The Rose.” It’s at least ten feet by five feet, and it must weigh two tons. They presented it in a beautiful way; it was really respected, really reverential. That was incredible. I also loved the Anselm Kiefer show at the Gagosian Gallery.