Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC
Sophie Staerk is modest and soft-spoken, not exactly what comes to mind when you think of a Danish rock-star artist... then you notice the crystal chandelier sitting on the table, and the disco-ball hanging from the ceiling, and it starts making sense. I had a chance to sit down with Sophie in her Chelsea studio and learn a little bit more about how she came to be canonized in the history of Danish art in the 90s, and what she’s up to now.
So you’re from denmark- did you train as an artist there? How did you decide to pursue art?
Yes- I trained as an artist before coming to the States. I studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. My grandfather was an artist, he had a studio that I spent time at when I was younger. He also studied at the Royal Academy of the Arts, and all of his brothers were artists. It was just very natural for me- I knew I had to do something creative.
I came to New York about seven years ago. I came because I was in this artists program, ISCP which came with an apartment and a studio- it was very nice. So anyways, I decided to stay. It was originally six months, and kind of got extended to a year. My studio was then on 39th street, I’ve been in this studio for the past two years- I took over the lease about two years ago, and then Karen Rosenkranz (also an Artsicle artist) became my studiomate about a year ago. I had been painting a bit at home and at my previous studio, but I needed another space.
You work in a very distinctive style- has that been consistent throughout your career?
No- I used to work in a much more figurative style. I’m still very graphic, but I used to work more in the style of Italian masters. Nobody was really painting like that anymore, and I don’t think I really have the patience to keep working in that style.
So you had established your career pretty much in Denmark before you came here?
Yes- I think people sort of know who I am in Denmark. Here it is different. I am in a book about Danish art in the 1990s, we had made a group , another painter, a photographer and I. The group was called the Quirky Girls, at the time we did quite a few shows, one at DCA gallery in Chelsea, on at Horsen's Museum of Art in Denmark and a few more. We have been documented as a part of Danish art history in the 1990s...but it’s a small country.
What was your goal in moving to New York? Did you intend to take your career to the next step?
I guess I was just sort of staying here- I probably should do much more to develop my career, but there are certainly some distractions these days...
(note: she has an adorable, crying 14 month old baby on her lap throughout the interview, and a six year old at home)
Suddenly this year I got several large commissions, one is in Denmark for a courthouse. I have a lot to think about with the aesthetic there because of the location. I have to go and create the work directly on the wall.
It’s kind of interesting, I wouldn’t mind moving into that field because my work is kind of graphic and lends itself well to installation. In this case I have to work around a staircase and other site specific obstacles. I met some of the people on the committee, and there was a judge there, they asked me to consider who would be coming there...people receiving a conviction- it might be one of the the last thing they see before prison. So I really had to think about who would be seeing the work, and I decided to use themes that related more to nature to create a calming effect.
What has shaped the vibrant and distinctive colors in your palette?
Color has always been quite important to me. If something bothers me I have to redo it. I tried to do some work without using black, just as an experience, but I think it works better with the black, I like the contrast. I guess you could recognize my use of colors, it has been very popular. It comes very natural to me- I often think about doing something just black and white, but it’s more likely that I’ll continue to work in color.
What about the images in your work?
I usually work on a series of two or three paintings at a time, I like taking images of rougher urban areas, and sometimes combine them with nature. I usually begin working from photographs on the computer, I’ll usually make a composition but I don’t always stick to it. I work with transparencies and layer them, in a way it’s similar to silk screen the way they are layered on.
So what is on the horizon for you in terms of your work?
I’ve been enjoying the commission work that I’ve been doing and will hopefully continue. The piece that I am working on now (pictured above) is for another commission in Denmark. It’s for a heating company, it’s more normal in Denmark that companies reserve a portion of money to bring art into their work environment. My work is going to be on permanent display in reception and in their canteen- three large paintings. I was caught by surprise with these commissions, so hopefully we’ll see what else comes.