Kelly Bjork paints domestic interiors-- scenes of tenderness, intimacy, and vulnerability in which she envisions something like utopian cohabitation. Her paintings are rich with patterns, sometimes in perspective but often rendered flatly: rugs, tiles, wood floors, shower curtains, drapery. These clean, well-lit spaces are populated by white creative millennial types and their minimal possessions. Presumably autobiographical, these paintings tell the imminently relatable story of getting by in the 21st century-- learning to appreciate apartment living, doing more with less, and cultivating tenderness amidst it all.
In Tender Coven we see two ladies on opposite ends of a red couch, smiling at each other like a joke is settling in. On the wall above them is a painting by Kimberly Trowbridge. The title invokes softness and care while also referring to spirituality, sisterhood, and the re-emergence of groups like W.I.T.C.H. (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell). I like to think that the ladies on the couch are Kelly and Kimberly and that the coven is a loving and supportive community of artists. But then, it's easy for me to imagine Bjork's paintings as tiny utopias.
As a man raising a young son to be tender and emotionally resilient, I appreciate how the men in Bjork's paintings are often shown as soft and vulnerable. In Shower Talk there is a singular hairy, bearded man standing naked in the shower with a pink towel on his head. His face is reflected in two mirrors and we get the sense (with help from the title) that he's having a conversation with himself. Showering is a deeply introspective ritual. All white noise and muscle memory. The act of masculine self-reflection is itself anti-patriarchal because The Patriarchy insists that its men are unflinching, unfeeling creatures of logic and pragmatism. The painting shows an endearing example of a possible path forward towards a less toxic masculinity.
Splayed Produce is a rare example of a Bjork painting not populated by people. In the flat space stand a table, 2 chairs, and a cabinet. The love and care of a human hand is evidenced throughout. House plants, big jars of pickles in the cabinet, fresh bananas, tomatoes, and a lemon on the countertop, and a halved avocado served on a plate atop the table. One chair is pushed back slightly, telling us someone was just there. There are no people but the space is still warm with presence. This is how magic works. It's about care, signs, ritual, intention.