I found the Covid Window series especially poignant. I am keenly interested when the conceptual framework of a project conveys through its material, form, and process and I find this to be the case with this series. I am intrigued by the marriage of the presumably oppositional idioms of expression and geometric abstraction. The linear framework suggests the grid, one that intermittently falls apart. This entropic collapse of order recalled some of Lenore Tawney's weavings and also drew to mind Brice Marden's gridded drawings. Another artist to come to mind is Dubuffet. I found these to be visceral paintings suggestive of the human condition. It is as though the paintings contain trauma, literally contain it. I find the smallest canvas most successful with respect to a sense of claustrophobia and containment. I came across a painting by Jacob Lawrence (an artist whose work seems especially relevant to the times) and wanted to share it with you because it also suggests a sense of imprisonment. I hope that your artwork is accorded attention at your show at Kaaterskill and in many more exhibits to follow.
Darla Bjork's Covid Windows Series
Essay by Katie Cercone
Darla Bjork’s Covid Window series recounts through the artist’s many filters of experience the early months of the global pandemic. In the dramatic aftermath of its many unprecedented events - storefronts of New York City went dark, several of them boarded up, the well-trodden pathways of urban metropolis fell silent as never before as longtime residents like Bjork fled New York City or receded into their domestic quarters indefinitely. Painting from the quietude of her second studio in Woodstock, NY, which naturally overlooks the Catskill mountains, Darla simply couldn’t shake images of “the new normal” plaguing The Big Apple’s somber cityscape.
What emerged was a series of paintings awash with the energy of deep blues and greens. Scrawled in rich strokes of oil on wood panel with encaustic wax and oil stick, Bjork’s visceral abstractions recall life “on grid.” The psychic implications of “grid” taking on gargantuan proportions as Darla meters out window, after window, after window. Each cell of space occupied with human life is minuscule when compared to the whole, and yet integral to the greater fabric of reality. Tiny apartments stacked on more tiny apartments rising up into the air for miles charged the artist’s heightened memories as Bjork faced her own unique challenges amidst a more rural quarantine life. What was it like for those that had no other choice but to face isolation peering out from tiny cells? Without the cultural life of the city to fuel creative passions, nor the gathering of great minds and tender hearts, what is left? To the naked eye - surely a vision which is ripe for futuristic dystopian fiction, or worse, a grid of control. In some scenes we see what could be the massive glass facades of corporate towers, skyscrapers that tilt and lean with uncanny gravity. In other iterations building abstractions elide with what looks like ladders, perhaps an escape for those less fortunates who had no second residence.
Heightened by the digging and scraping inherent to Bjork’s very physical process with the paint, the deep-seated emotions latent in the artist’s swift hand pour onto canvas - rising and falling, dripping and dropping. Painted consecutively, Bjork’s Covid Window series is somber to say the least. If you look closely, you might perceive in those sideways lines moments of azure, teal and gold - glimmers that fill the cracks of a grim corpse of a city, perhaps, something resembling a silver lining.
Darla Bjork: Weaving: Tight and Loose
Press Release by Maeve M. Hogan
SOHO20 is proud to announce the opening of "Weaving: Tight and Loose", a new collection of Darla Bjork’s characteristically expressive encaustic and oil stick paintings. The exhibition is on view at the gallery’s 56 Bogart Street location, May 24 – June 23, 2019, opening reception Friday, May 24, 6-9PM.
This show brings together works from the last three years in which Bjork has connected her abstract painting style to a tradition of female labor and artistry in her family. The grid-like visual structures the weaving series consciously evokes the warp and weft of the woven rugs Bjork’s watched her maternal grandmother make as a child. These works are gentler than the scored and scared works Bjork has produced in recent years. The dense interlocking layers of paint are built over each other, in some case dictated by the choice of surface, canvas rather than board.
The series incorporates both tightly woven pieces like Anna’s Rug, a direct reference to her grandmother’s weaving, and looser pieces with more movement like Leaving Earth. In Anna’s Rug the warp and weft are balanced, controlled, there is little dimensionality and the surface presses forward against an invisible plane. In contrast, Leaving Earth, the most recently completed piece in the series, shows a deliberate choice to engage with illusionary visual depth to “loosen up” the weave structure as the striking crimson lines reach simultaneously deeper into the canvas and out at the viewer.
Bjork’s weavings, like her grandmother’s, are more than decorative, their value is created by the process, the physical and emotional labour they are imbued with. Bjork’s dimensional and physically expressive work has in recent years has engaged with everything from contemporary politics to botany and personal grief. Although she engages with a diverse range of subject matter Bjork’s painting is consistently expressive, upfront about its role as mode of processing, an artistic catharsis. In the Weaving series Bjork has also reckoned with mortality, physical illness, and new celestial imaging.
by Rachel Vera Steinberg
For the exhibition Sanctuary, SOHO20 member artist Darla Bjork presents two new bodies of work, both engaged in various states of anxiety and meditation.
Her new series of encaustic and oil stick paintings on panel, Garden Images, suggests the perspective of a botanist in viewing a prismatic spectrum of exotic and mundane specimens in microscopic detail. The lines that run through her elongated panels could be organic pathways through which vibrant liquids flow - whether carrying chlorophyll through a leaf, blood through a body, or water through an estuary. Although evocative of vital ebbs and flows, these paintings imagine what is not quite observable, relaying an intensity of emotion that escapes systems of visual measurement.
In her second series, Political Works on Paper, Bjork captures the vivacity of a very different subject through a series of animated faces reminiscent of a certain omnipresent orange man. This series is in direct connection to an earlier body of work depicting screaming faces, made during her time spent working at a mental hospital, a release of her constant proximity to institutionalized pain. Likewise, her new drawings are saturated to their maximum capacity with anguish and fear, this time as a response to a feeling of post-election paralysis.
Despite the heightened energy in her new works, the exhibition’s title signifies a refuge or safe space. Bjork’s work has always occupied a space of retreat, but not strictly in the sense of escape. A psychiatrist by profession, she spent her life providing people with tools to cope with anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments. Her art practice, in a sense, has been her own tool to find release and repose, a space of both aggression and meditation in uncertain times.
Torii/Gate: Liminal Uncertainty
by Harry J. Weil, PhD
The paintings in Darla Bjork’s new series, Torii / Gate, demarcate liminal states of being as described by Victor Turner, a culturalanthropologist, who wrote that in these states individuals "are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony." By following through a series of subscribed actions, the liminal moves a participant toward physical and spiritual transcendence. Such experiences, as Turner explains, are often ungovernable by the laws of logic and order, and the catalyst for Bjork’s latest paintings.
Associated mainly with the Shinto religion of Japan, torii are traditionally constructed at the entrances to temples or shrines. As archways, they mark space and make the liminal possible, a threshold for the believer needing to cross from the banal to the sacred. At first glance, however, Bjork’s torii are flat, with no formidable dimensions in which to pass through. Look again. Much like her preceding series. Windows, our attention is directed to that which lies just beyond what we see. Her torii are not grounded in a defined location, but rather floating in an unearthlylandscape of black and grey encaustic. The waxy surface shimmers in the light, as if evoking the abyss of space itself ? empty, immense, and with only a faint glimmer of life. Yet from this vastness emerges, in a vivid red palette, a structure, simply constructed, that holds together in its otherwise permeable state. Our eyes navigate into, through, and outside of it while being punctured by that which threatens to subsume it.
Bjork’s canvases vibrate with bursts of color. Find the splashes of salmon paint bursting from the torii or the streaks of green that shake the surface, there you will find the liminal at its best. Her colors express a very human inability to meditate for longer than a very brief moment, an anxiety of our senses to tune out the nuances of the day to day. This anxiety does not disrupt; it is an excited expression of seeing, feeling, and touching. Bjork is a tactile painter, and her surfaces are heavily worked, with layers of encaustic and oil stick that are scrapped, reapplied and scrapped again. This repeated working and reworking, much like the tension that is in each of us, speaks to a longing for a wholeness beyond ourselves. We are never settled, continually reaching out and pushing forward only to fail and move on again. Where and when we arrive - if we ever do - is uncertain. Bjork’s paintings direct us betwixt and between those uncertainties.
Harry J. Weil is an art historian and curator who received a PhD from Stony Brook University and has contributed numerous reviews and interviews to American art publications. Currently, he organizes exhibitions at the historic landmark church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity and teaches at Ithaca College’s Manhattan campus.
Darla Bjork's Windows: On the Other Side
by Derin Tanyol
Darla Bjork’s oil stick and encaustic Windows vibrate between ethereal landscape abstractions and architectonic, vividly spatial images—a romantic dialogue connecting the outside with what comes from within. Taking elements of her fluid earlier series, especially Water, the Windows are developed according to a grid: still effervescent, still active, but overseen by a monumental, painterly architecture. Window panes, window frames, girders, posts and lintels, Stonehenge in the blue mist, the towers of Notre Dame—maybe they are there, or maybe they are not, hovering in an uncertain, atmospheric domain of sky blue, pale green, and yellow. Bjork’s expressionistic layering takes all-over composition to a kind of epic infinity, while the question of when a painting is “finished” is rooted in the series’ conceptual focus on life and what, if anything, comes after.
Initiated by the approaching death of Bjork’s mother—also an artist—the first of the series, Windows 5, is dark, visibly struggling. After Bjork’s mother died, the Windows shifted to serene evocations of looking into the next world—existence or something less nameable on the other side. The surfaces of her powerful but peaceful grids are reinforced by lines etched and scratched with a screwdriver or dental tool, echoing the structure of the composition while revealing, this time literally, that which lies on the other side of the medium. Layers of color, hidden by newer layers, are resurrected in the scratchings. Surprising reds and blacks emerge with surreptitious fierceness from beneath the series’ predominantly pastel tonalities.
The Windows transform the traditional pictorial relationship between object and setting, emphasizing instead the interchangeability between outside and inside, what is behind a structure versus in front of it, and what can hide beneath. With a compelling combination of intuition and decisiveness, Darla Bjork’s Windows achieve the simultaneous expression of the Renaissance window into space, abstraction’s shattering of that window--and the psychological crossbeams holding it all in place.
Full of Talent
by Joe Bendik, Chelsea Clinton News
The beginning of the fall gallery season promises a return to craft over gimmickry
The summer gallery hiatus is finally over, and it's now time for the fall season—which is pretty overwhelming. The fact that most of the galleries open on the same night just adds to the element of urgency and chaos. Things have really changed over the past year. Installations and gimmickry were prevalent last year. Now, no one;s drawing stick figures on the walls anymore or creating installation machines out of scrap cardboard. There's a welcomed emphasis on painting.
In my first column for Gallery Hopping, I bemoaned the lack of painting being shown. I am pleased to report that this is now not the case. Its not just that theree's an abundance of paintings, but quality paintings abound. With anry a monochromatic work in site (that's for the Lower East Side these days), I was impressed by the diversity and realistic pricing policies of many of the galleries.
One of my favorite painters that I saw was Darla Bjork. Her long career has taken several turns over the years, resulting in self reinvention(s).
She started out doing landscapes and, during her tenure as a psychiatrist, painted a lot of portraits. Since scaling back from the psychiatric field, Bjork returned to landscape painting, but brings new abstract priciples to the works, emphasising the underpinnings of the mysterious, unknown power of nature itself.
In her current Water Series: Recent Paintings, Bjork incorporates the ancient technique of encaustic wax along with oils painted on wood panels. This allows for some amazing textures that threaten to drip off the walls. Using a rich palette of blue hues, Bjork sets up enless contrasting elements. One could stare at each of theses paintings for hours and stull find more subtleties with every minute of viewing.
In her "Water Series 3" painting, Bjork's mastery of colors morphing into one another, yet delineating its own space presents the viewer with a three-dimensional experience. Not quite an abstract work, yet never literal landscape, she stradles the line between the two. This amorphous approach invites the viewer to fill out the space in the mind. Viewers get a sense of really feeling the lifeforce of water, rather than just viewing it. In combining these elements—which may verge on mixed media, though one never really gets that impression—Bjork expresses a unified vision that relies on diversity. It may sound like a contradiction, but it works.
Overall, I'm looking forward to this art season. Sometimes a struggling economy can make for higher-quality artworks. Many of the galleries appear to have a stripped-down aptmosphere since this is a time when frivolity is out of fashion and true talent is once again in demand. It's heartening to see veteran painters like Darla Bjork getting the attention they deserve. I wouldn't call this era "the death of the avant-garde" or anything, but this promises to be a time with a renewed focus on craftsmanship and talent.
September 17, 2009
by Paul Smart, Woodstock Times
Darla Bjork, who spends half her life painting in a studio beside her home on Ohayo Mountain, uses her art the way clients use her day work as a psychologist...to ruminate and heal, to look inward and simultaneously let things flow. That's what makes her latest body of work, "Water Series", so refreshing...a leap beyond past collections woring with faces, or color swaths, or pure emotionality, becoming gentle exploration of flow and rhythm, repetition and sustenance. She works in encaustics, loving the materials uncontrollable aspects...as well as its palette, which she's taken into ultramarine directions this time around.
Bjork's latest paintings, many diptychs, will be up at New York's SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery from September 1 through 26, with an opening reception wet for the big seasonal kick off on Thursday September 10. ...Or just check out www.darlabjork.com. She's a great Woodstock artist and it's a blast to hit these seasonal kick off shows in the city this time of year.
Darla Bjork's abstract paintings, currently involving encaustic waxes on wooden boards, are all about a process of exploration, of freeing something deep within her. She says that when she starts a series of new works, she tends to keep to smaller pieces, and then grow larger in size as her brush strokes - the inner painter she's always seeking to let loose - seek more freedom.
Since starting to work with encaustics, Bjork's been feeling as though she's made a breakthrough with her art. She likes the elements of digging and scraping that the new media allows her, she can really get deeply into a painting now, instead of redoing only its surface, as most traditional means. She can work with layers: On one recent piece, she points out a strip of blue beneath a surface of splotchy brush strokes. That's where she started. It lends the piece a ballast, a sense of depth, that some of her older pieces are missing.
Bjork, who will have a pair of paintings, a recent diptych, in the new 7 x 14 show opening at the Kleinert James Arts Center in Woodstock this Friday, came to her art in a roundabout way. Yet it is that journey that fuels its deepest parts.
Born and raised into a Scandinavian family in Minnesota, Bjork speaks about her mother 'meticulous landscapes' and her own need to rebel against her parent by not going anywhere near art for years. She became a doctor - a psychiatrist with a full career working in mental institutions. Eventually, she found herself drawn to work in New York City, and there decided, on a whim, to try a sculpture class where the teacher now her life partner suggested that she take up painting. "Nancy was right," she says of that decision. "I just fell in love with paint and colors."
Bjork's early works reflected her day jobs at the time. They're angry, tortured faces that catch the viewer off-guard with their primal power, small and raw - an observer's view of an insider's angst. "I guess I found a way of releasing some of what was building up inside of me from my work in the hospitals, " Bjork says now, matter-of-factly. She adds that she didn't stop painting faces until she retired from her position as clinical director at South Beach Hospital and set 'up a private practice for herself - and a second home, with her partner up in Woodstock.
"I didn't know what I was doing when I moved to the abstracts." Bjork admits, almost gleefully. "I just loved the freedom of it - not having to think about having things resemble other things. I could spend hours painting."
She still does that, out of small studios upstate and in lower Manhattan, where Bjork tries to spend time with her art on a daily basis. She notes how the Woodstock locale has produced paintings with a horizontal character to them - like landscapes - while those she is doing this winter in the City are more amorphous, almost like peeling walls. "I've learned a great deal from the way in which light filters through the trees," she says. "I'm always aware of the light when I paint."
As with many in her field of abstraction, I ask Darla how she knows when enough is enough, when to call a painting done. She describes the process where she is working on it flat down, with the heated encaustics, or sometimes now upon an easel, moving the piece to the wall and back until it feels right. That process can take anywhere from days to less than an hour, depending on elements out of her control.
Does she have an idea what she wants to create before starting to work? Not really Bjork says. She may start with a color or a brush stroke - or not. "In the end, it's all about endless learning: I spent for too many years in school. With abstraction, you're learning as you go along, and there's no end to what can happen."
She pauses a moment. Then her two selves seem to conjoin in front of me. "As a psychiatrist, I've often thought about Rothko's suicide and wondered whether it was because he didn't know how to move on from where he'd gotten," she says. "I see artists who seem to have gotten stuck doing one painting. I feel the opposite, especially now with the encaustics added to what I do. I love the ability to move on."
Does Bjork have any ideas about the art world's commercial side? She sighs and we move on.
What about any second thoughts, created by her shift from doctor to painter? "If I'd known what I could get from all this back then, I would have started much earlier and foregone everything else," she says. "I would have loved to be a painter like Agnes Martin, quietly working on what I did for decades."
Darla Bjork: Internal Landscape
Essay by Flavia Rando, PhD
Darla Bjork's suite of paintings, Internal Landscape, is a meditation on open space, landscape, and light. Bjork celebrates the generosity of nature, the luminescence of sunrise and sunset. With this work, Bjork finds the sensuous abandon possible in the act of painting and the clarity manifest through such abandon--a liberation of the self possible through artistic creation.
In 1999, Bjork, conjuring memories of her youth, began again to paint landscape in the countryside. Abstraction and landscape have always been, for Bjork, a path to and recording of freedom, expansiveness, a mapping of an(other) access to the self. As Bjork painted (self) portraits, she fantasized a return to the painterly abstraction that first attracted her to the emotional qualities embodied in color, gesture, and form, to a free and generous play--a passionate vision.
Bjork continues to work on the edge, playing with revelation and concealment, light and shadow--the chance of catching a glimpse, the chance of another understanding (of the self). Resisting boundaries, she dares abandon, her painting has become expansive, even as it pushes against the picture plane and moves beyond the canvas edge into the viewer's space, explosive. She courts chaos, but her vision is now unmasked and chaos is reformulated--freedom, space, fluidity--the layering of sumptuous color and red-golden light.
Overlook, is symphonic in scale, a communion with self through the intermediary of the natural world. Bjork works at the translucent grey moment just before dawn--light bleeds through. We look from a distance, darkness opens, the under level floats up, we become aware of the tension between near and far, between surface, the picture plane, and that which lies beyond and behind the picture plane. A curtain of red washes down. Powerful, threatening, pressing against the picture plane, it looms into the viewer's space, obscuring possible vision, impeding access to the promised depth. Red becomes the color that contains the dark (of the sun). Pale, golden oranges create a delicate tracery through the red, the dripped paint as willed as the marks made with a fine brush. The apocalyptic and lyrical are held in delicate and precarious balance. The struggle (within the self) is quieted, held in abeyance.
With The Cave, Bjork again poses the question of balance between light and shadow, surface and depth. The underpainting, the subterranean level, is a world of its own, frightening and perhaps dangerous--one could lose one's footing. A subdued light recalls the light of December when "the sun is really low in the sky." The light pulses; is the dark lifting or closing in? As she works to see, to "get down to the bone," the artist allows the ideal, the child's fantasy of (total) freedom to interrupt the adult's nightmare recall of confinement. Playing with gorgeous color on the razor's edge of self-knowledge--between luminescence and the void--each instance of clarity holds the possibility of yet another shrouding/cloaking. The artist's response is an understanding that the dark, The Cave, grounds the light giving it depth and luminosity.
In Meadows and Untitled #6, Bjork claims the freedom to be playful, to lavish in the sensual enjoyment of the medium, as in the light of a sunlit day. Looking back even as she goes forward, "you bring the past, the tenderness, the nice things with you," she paints beginnings, the translucent yellows, fragile new greens, and soft pinks of spring. She recalls the art of her foremothers, from her grandmother's garden and the "pale pink roses" she grew, and her mother's painting, to the art of Joan Mitchell and Jay de Feo's monumental The Rose. In Untitled #6, the yellow brush strokes become figure-like, they cavort, play, dance across a green field backed by the silvered turquoise blue of summer. This work could only be made through an immersion in nature, in full view of the countryside, staring into the light--vision unmasked.
In this celebration of a lyrical relation with the natural world, the act of painting, becomes for Bjork, the reach for a utopian ideal. Bjork works to reconcile structure with expansiveness, "it has to be both," luminescence and the dark of the sun. Light filters through layers of color, and color becomes light. The gesture of the artist's hand, is at once brushstroke and ray of light, a particular moment of sunset and a record of freedom and expansiveness--the opening of the artist's psyche.
Darla Bjork at Ceres Gallery, NYC
by Elise LaRose, Women Artists News, Vol 14
Darla Bjork, painter and psychiatrist, addresses the wounds of the soul caused by mental illness in series of small untitled panel paintings. Forty incandescent faces lined the gallery walls, variations on themes of confinement and mental torment reverberating in a dark world.
Painted in melting pinks and dry-iced turquoise, they float and loom out of black backgrounds, female and male and neither, a lyrical description of how victims of schizophrenia lose their original identities and are consigned to a hell where they can't communicate their anguish.
Bjork began painting abstractly in 1979. Friends recognized quasi-facial images, which had surfaced unconsciously. Since then, the paintings have become increasingly intimate and specific. They bring to mind Edvard Munch and the German Expressionists, but the experiences and impulses propelling Bjork's art are unlike the Expressionists. She is trying to reconcile the meanings of madness. She says she has always questioned the "why" of suffering. Not only does she ask how much is genetic and how much is environmental, but how much is spiritual. Having worked with people from all kinds of backgrounds, she found that those from less grievous and deprived circumstances may experience more psycho-spiritual anguish than those with more painful histories.
While most of us aren't schizophrenic, these facial expressions are metaphors for what we hide or mask or can't get at through words. As a psychiatrist, Bjork can't really heal schizophrenics, but her paintings are poignant attempts to reach them. Her icons evoke the use of masks in West African medicine traditions. Both healer and afflicted engage in an act of faith in the healing process. The African masks represent a person (living or departed) or an exaggerated human quality and are energized by ritual and incantation.
In Bjork's mausoleum the afflicted cannot actively participate in their healing. The portraits are an elegiac attempt to communicate with their souls and to clarify their realities.
by Arlene Raven, The Village Voice
In the season of small we are served up endless stories about the plight and triumph of the “little guy.” Just as artworks have their formal counterparts in the mini food-processors, hand vacs, cordless blenders, and portable electric hair curlers seen only at this time of the year, these bytes of human-interest content in print and on television also have their parallels in the galleries. A.I.R.’s “At Home for the Holidays” invitational of small works by artists, architects, and craftspeople on the theme of “home” (63 Crosby Street, through January 6) promises a store that is a home. If the family is no longer a refuge from the marketplace but is itself the marketplace, we can feel entirely at home here.
Considering that shopping has been promoted as the most accessible current form of social action and buying power the most available power, “At Home for the Holidays” wants to characterize potential buyers as well as reflect the sentiments of artists. Shopping can, according to Shopping for a Better World (The Council of Economic Priorities’ new, quick-and-easy guide to socially responsible supermarket shopping) cast an “economic vote” in the marketplace. What would it mean, then, to buy a work with a social theme instead of a work with only an aesthetic theme? Does art in this exhibition serve any social purpose relating to its theme, or does the social issue that is its theme serve to make the small works more palatable for purchasers who want to enhance spending with a fictitious good deed? In the context of the small art gift, in which contentious ideas are structurally contained and constricted, can any work seize the liberating power to become the architecture of social consciousness?
The objects in “At Home for the Holidays” have been made for the home or express home as a place or structure, comment socially or politically on the idea of home or homelessness, and celebrate homecoming. Possibly because many of the works were made especially for this exhibition, the art on view doesn’t look like the runt of a larger-sized norm. In this pleasing installation, the pieces seem to float on the wall. Susan Hambleton’s Ohne Titel is a bleak, dun-colored canvas with a silhouette of a figure poised between home and homelessness right in its center. Is he/she a traveler alone on the road, going toward the schematic home or moving away? Darla Bjork’s forlorn face on a painted black wood panel, Where Is My Home, is imprisoned and obscured by denatured black branches that make a kind of fence or cave in front of the figure. Bjork has captured an essential human separation from place or purpose. The barrier between viewer and object, have and have not, is also underlined by Bjork’s three-dimensional frame – and, as well, the imprisonment of placing our deepest miseries into the cramped, numbing packages demanded by the conventions of the commercial gift. Leila Daw’s Yellow, a folded-paper work, in mixed media, travels through issues of home as personal history and geographical surroundings with a thread of gold, from the color of margarine to the yellow mud at the bottom of ditches.