Here is a nice 11 page spread of my work in a contemporary art magazine called HI-FRUCTOSE (volume 20):
“The Hypothetical Universe of Jen Stark” by Jennifer Pappas
The first time I heard the term ‘paper engineer’ was in 2005, in reference to an exhibition of pop-up books at the Center for the Book in San Francisco. Infatuated with letterpress and bookbinding, I was one of the Center’s many volunteers at the time. Once a week, I sorted type, cleaned Vander Cooks and cut down paper in exchange for free studio hours. That day, I was helping set up the new exhibit, placing glass cases over hand-made books with extravagant, avant-garde pop-up methods. For some reason, the combination of ‘paper’ and ‘engineer’ really worked a number on my imagination, and I daydreamed about what I would say to such a magical person, should I ever meet one face to face.
Jen Stark is my own personal paper engineer. Though what she creates is probably better categorized as sculpture, her bright, eye-popping paper works are a feat all the same, each one built — layer by layer — completely by hand. Unlike your typical architect, however, Stark builds new models of the universe, reconstructing the elements of time, nature and the cosmos with construction paper and glue. Some works give the illusion of light speed, while others connote the bleeding or leaking of time. Each one includes the added stimuli of woozy edges, mind-bending color arrangements and other visual tomfoolery. Stark’s sculptures contain a metaphysical quality that’s not only fun to look at, but invites inquiry.
Need proof? Pedestal is a leap down the rabbit hole, while Counter Cosmo could represent the death throes of a supernova. Sunken Sediment resembles a wormhole or portal, some sort of fantastic shortcut to the future. Centrifugal is suggestive of a topographical map used to show earthquake activity or some type of intergalactic cold front. On the Inside could be a reference to tree rings. In short, Stark’s work is a kaleidoscope of layers leading into geometric-shaped utopias of the past, present, future and infinity. Pinwheels, teardrops and stars cascade, implode, drip and expand into rainbows of impossible possibilities. Sculpture after sculpture, rainbow after rainbow, the mind games continue. And Stark likes it that way. “There is so much out there that we don’t know about, and I hope to reveal some sort of magical secret of it in my artwork. I love the mystery of science and the universe. Wormholes, dark holes, infinity! What does it mean?”
Universal conundrums aside, one thing is clear: Jen Stark’s universe is definitely heating up. Features in Nylon, New American Paintings and The Miami Herald, along with several prestigious awards in recent years has solidified her as a bona fide artist on the rise. A third-generation Miami native, Stark received her BFA from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art in 2005. She spent her junior year studying abroad in the south of France. This experience, coupled with the reality of a weak dollar led her to the materials she continues to use and tweak today. “I went over there [Aix en Provence] with a couple of suitcases of clothes, figuring I’d get art supplies when I arrived. The Euro was high and everything was expensive, so I decided to get the cheapest material I could find, but one with potential. It was a stack of construction paper. I went back to my studio to experiment and the sculptures were born.” The results are marvelous interventions of paper, color, and the space-time continuum. Following her tenure in France, Stark returned home to Miami, where she’s currently based. Not a bad place to be if you’re a young, up-and-coming contemporary artist with a distinct style.
Best known for her sculpture work, Stark’s pen and ink drawings are equally vibrant and alive. Consisting of squiggles, loops, swirls, mitochondria and triangles, the drawings are a physical and creative respite from the tedium of cutting, folding and pasting. “I tend to make sculptures more than drawings, but not by much more. I like to do them equally, and think of them as a break from the other. The drawings are more spontaneous and allow me to rest my hand a bit. The sculptures are more organized and structured, and I do the same hand movements over and over, so simultaneously being able to work on the drawings gives me freedom and change.” Whatever the reason, I’m slightly envious of the drawings; she’s the best doodler I’ve ever seen. And judging from the forms that unwind, she’s probably good at geometry too – double envy. Hypnotic, yet engaging, Stark’s drawings and sculptures appeal to the obsessive compulsive bubbling away in all of us. Much is made of the time it takes to hand-cut each layer of each sculpture, and her drawings appear equally time-consuming. Stark’s unabashed use of color appeals to the same innate cry for stimulus. “I love colors and how they interact with each other.” Stark says. “I love the effects they have when you place them side by side and they make your eyes twitch. Color is the thing that grabs your attention, and I like playing with this fact.”
Stark’s inquest of the universe works in tandem with life here on Earth. Many of her sculptures mimic the organic forms found in nature. The intricacies of a flower petal, the mathematics of a spider web, the orderliness of tree rings — each, if looking intuitively enough can be found in both her sculptures and drawings. All the more ideal then that the material she chooses to work in is not only common but natural. Everyday construction paper and the patience of a saint are her primary tools of trade. It’s the way she confounds an ordinary form, however, that makes her work so compelling. While most artists work with their hands and deal in transformation, Stark takes it to a whole new level, cutting, folding, and assembling one of the most common things we know into extraordinary, magical, scientific flights of fancy, each layer revealing just a tiny bit more of a seemingly unknowable universe. In what may be the first and only time I ask, “Do you believe in time travel?” during an interview, Stark responds thoughtfully, “I believe that light travels, and with that, images from moments in time can move through space. If you’re able to outrun it, you’re able to see the past and “time travel”. I’m fascinated by these types of unsolved questions.”
Double Rainbow Rainbow, a dual show with Maya Hayuk at the Show & Tell Gallery in Toronto opened May 12th and is Stark’s most recent show to date. “The work in the show focuses on symmetry, radiant colors, and positive energy.” Stark explains. “We each work with different mediums that evoke macro and micro science, holograms, and Rorschach tests, with hypnotic, sacred and sensual results. I did some drawings, sculptures and a new animation with music by Dan Deacon.” While the concept sounds simple enough, the show is proof that Stark is continuing to branch out, experimenting with stop-animation, wooden dowels and foam core, further complicating her geometry while forming deeper connections with the viewer. Despite its apparent limitations, construction paper continues to present a myriad of possibilities. Stark describes the evolution of her work as thus: “My work has become more intricate and I’m focusing more on the viewer interacting with the work. I want the artwork to become more of an installation, and seem to change as your view changes. I’m excited about trying to out-do the last piece I made. I want my work to keep growing and inspiring people.”
At one point during the interview, Stark surprises me by quoting Nietzsche. I think about it for days before deciding that her comment makes a lot of sense in the grand scheme of her work. “Would you categorize your work as playful?” I ask, wondering if the question is a cop-out in lieu of some deeper analysis on her use of color. “Yes, you can call my work playful.” She responds. “Here’s a really great quote by Nietzsche: ‘Maturity means to rediscover the seriousness one had as a child at play.’”
While I’d read this particular quote before, coming from Stark in this context, I reflected on its meaning in a different light. Considering the overwhelming mysteries of the cosmos, time, memory and science, aren’t we all just children at play, wondering at the staggering marvel that is everyday life? Aren’t we all trying to make sense of things in a language — visual or otherwise — that makes sense? If so, Jen Stark’s paper rainbow sculptures are just another means for understanding the great mysteries of life, one lovely scrap of paper at a time.