Sol Kjøk‘s artistry is quite simply her life purpose. Having drawn from a young age, her ascent to international recognition comes as little surprise seeing that for decades, she has surrounded herself by art. Quite literally, in fact: Sol’s home for the past 15 years is Mothership NYC, the artist community in Brooklyn, New York, that she founded fresh out of art school and now runs with the help of a rotating crew of creative colleagues.
Perhaps the most endearing aspect of this Norwegian-born New Yorker’s long journey across three continents is her continued support and empowerment of her artist peers. Sol has held artist residencies in several countries, while also teaching at universities and art schools and lecturing at museums and art centers throughout the US and Europe. When offered access to a storefront in the budding arts district of the Lower East Side of Manhattan to show her own paintings, Sol spontaneously decided to turn this space into a gallery for fellow international artists. For that purpose, she founded NOoSPHERE Arts. Now in its tenth year, this non-profit organization continues to bring artists from elsewhere to New York City to give the U.S. audience access to current art from other countries and bring creative people together for artistic cross-pollination and transnational collaborations.
With NOoSPHERE Arts serving as the official sponsor of an annual residency award, Sol also offers her international colleagues the opportunity to spend a month as a visiting artist at Mothership NYC. Working alongside their Brooklyn peers, the award winners can take advantage of everything New York has to offer while developing an artistic project for public presentation at the conclusion of their residency. With the addition of the atmospheric warehouse loft Last Frontier NYC to the arenas at Sol’s crew’s disposal, visiting artists can choose among several spectacular indoor and outdoor stages where they can realize their dream of showing their work to the discerning New York audience
We sat down with this charismatic figure to find out more about life onboard Mothership NYC, Sol’s visions for the future of her multi-pronged arts enterprise, her advice to international artists eager to join the Mothershippers and what’s on her team’s playbill this month
1) What’s your happiest memory from your many years onboard Mothership NYC?
Oy vey, that’s a tough question – there have been so many beautiful moments! But if I have to pick specific highlights from the multitude of salons, artists’ dinners and other gatherings regularly happening both onboard our ship and in my painting studio a few blocks down (known in the local arts community as Last Frontier NYC), these stand out with a special brilliance in my memory:
~ Back in 2013, we hosted a unique photo exhibit in Manhattan followed by an outdoor concert on our Main Deck with the indigenous Sámi rapper Slincraze. Very exotic to New Yorkers, this hybrid musical act drew some 300 merry visitors to our home and ended up being featured on BBC
~ In 2017, we had the honor of hosting the extraordinary South-African artist Diane Victor for a month-long residency onboard, and she treated us all to a live demonstration of how to draw with candle fire. Diane is supremely gifted, and watching her at work feels like seeing art history unfold before your very eyes.
~ Thanks to a dear friend who has an actual sailboat, the Mothershippers get to go on regular sailings around the island of Manhattan. We always bring along some of the musicians in our circle to play for us as we are braving the waves on the Hudson River. Few things make me as deliriously happy as being on the water with a group of artist friends, gamely singing along to live violins as the mirage-like landscape of my favorite city on the planet glide by behind us.
2) In your dreams, how do you envision Mothership NYC in the coming years?
At present, I am working towards two main goals:
A peer community of hardworking artists, Mothership NYC has no capital and no outside funding, so everybody on board must cover their own rent. However, knowing full well the brutal reality of the New York real estate market, we want to make a sojourn with us feasible also for colleagues of limited means. And so, with the generous help of anonymous donors, we have created the annual NOoSPHERE Arts Residency Award: Once a year, we can offer a month-long residency free of charge to one talented international artist. My dream for the future is to establish a foundation that would allow us to fund free stays for our fellow artists year-round.
Second, we’d love to add more space to our ship so we can bring in more artist colleagues and eventually turn this entire building into a house for the arts. A first step in this direction is our collaboration with our lovely neighbors across the hall: Run and staffed by artists for artists, Kingsland Printing is a screen printing and ceramics studio located only steps away. Says Sara, the studio’s Founding Director: “We are excited to offer the opportunity to visiting artists to come work with us in our space. We are open to your ideas and flexible on how we can collaborate with you. Our studio is set up for large-scale work in both print and ceramics and we have knowledgeable staff who can help you complete your project.”
3) What advice would you give artists who want to apply for a residency onboard?
Our international peer community is the place that I myself wanted to find when first arriving in NYC as starry-eyed, aspiring painter with a dream to live and create among other artists drawn to the bright lights of this fabulous city from all over the world. As a residency for both long-term shipmates and visiting artists, our home is a welcoming landing pad for colleagues from other countries wanting to make the leap to New York. We aim to support and promote peers at all career levels through public programming and collaborative opportunities; build lasting transnational artist networks; and help retain creative forces in New York City.
I advise all artists who wish to apply for a berth onboard to come with the right expectations: We are not a traditional gallery, so if you are looking to make money selling your art in NYC, ours is not the right place for you. What we do well is bring creative people together, which makes spark fly and cool things happen. We’ll give you a stage where you can share what you love with a very appreciative NYC audience and make artist friends that can last for a lifetime. In short, our mission is to give power to artists and joy to everyone through the magic that ensues.
4) What’s happening onboard right now?
After several lean months of only virtual events, our team is eager to reemerge from the Corona lock-down with a series of live outdoor shows happening this month. NOoSPHERE Arts, the nonprofit I founded and now run in partnership with my invaluable curator colleague Daniela Holban, has received a grant from Brooklyn Arts Council to produce and present a series of live shows staged in the urban wildflower meadows growing above my painting studio. Intended to become an annual occurrence, this first iteration of the WE ARE NATURE Rooftop Series: Dance, Art & Call for Action on the green roofs of Greenpoint aims to inspire environmental engagement through awareness of humans’ place in the greater All.
Now scaled down and COVID-adapted, the two events are scheduled as bookends to Climate Week NYC 2020. Each will have a videotaped theme introduction by Mothership’s beloved Scholar-in-Residence, the world-renowned scientist, author, educator and activist Fritjof Capra, accompanied by newly commissioned site-specific dance works performed across several outdoor stages. There will also be contributions by guest artists, including a handful currently sailing with us at Mothership: Our long-time Musician-in-Residence Katy Gunn; rookie Sailor Sparrowhawk and First Officer Noam from Australia, and some of my own paintings will be on display, too. The shows, performed for a limited audience in compliance with COVID guidelines, will also be streamed online, free and open to the public far and wide.
For anyone curious to see some of the Mothershippers in action, keep an eye on this event page for a Zoom link to the live stream on Sep 13 and 27!