Words by Harry Smith
Armed with a steady hand, an X-acto knife and a stack of colored cards, Miami-based artist Jen Stark creates paper sculptures that your first grade crafts teacher could only dream about. Drawing inspiration from nature, science and the cosmos Stark’s sculptures ooze and explode with color creating a series of meticulously psychedelic patterns. Since graduating in 2005 from the Maryland Institute College of Art, the artist has exhibited her work in galleries all over the country including solo shows in New York, Miami and Washington DC. She also had her work added to the permanent collection of MOCA Miami. Working Class caught up with Stark to ask about her work and why she does what she does.
WC: From start to finish what is a typical working day like for you?
JS: I wake up, make breakfast, get online for a little while, then start working in my studio. I have a big four-by-eight foot table with a big cutting mat that I work on. I do all the work by hand with an Xacto knife. Then at night I make dinner, I love to cook and relax!
WC: How did you begin making paper sculptures? I read an interview where you mentioned being in France with limited resources and supplies, did this experience re-shape your artwork as it was then?
JS: The beginning of the paper sculptures happened in the south of France, Aix-en-Provence. I decided to study abroad there for a semester during college, so I brought two suitcases full of clothes and decided to purchase art supplies in France. The Euro was very high so when I went into the art store I decided to buy one of the cheapest materials, but one that had potential. I purchased an assorted color stack of construction paper and experimented in my studio. Eventually I turned them into three-dimensional sculptures.
WC: What was your work like before that?
JS: It was still intricate and repetitive. I guess it just lacked cohesiveness; I was all over the place trying to find what I really liked. When I began working with the paper, my work became more colorful and I started fine-tuning my technique.
WC: How do you approach the construction of your work and how long does it take you?
JS: Each piece can take me anywhere from a week to a month, depending on size and difficulty.
WC: Do you sketch out the sculptures beforehand or does the process just come to you?
JS: I sit at my studio table and start sketching out ideas. Once I have one I like, I figure out the color scheme for it. Then I figure out the best way to put the piece together, and start working.
WC: Do you ever start a work and then discover its not going as planned? If so, do you scrap the work entirely or do you continue and see where you end up? I imagine its pretty rough committing so many hours to something only to shelve it or trash it completely.
JS: I’ve thrown out work I’m not happy with a few times. If I don’t like where the work is going, or if I think I messed up, I usually trash/recycle it. I would rather waste the hours and throw it out, than have something I don’t love shown somewhere for people to see.
WC: Are some works harder to finish than others?
JS: Yes, if a piece is larger and more complex then it is harder and takes longer to complete. “Electric Medley” would be one example. Its just larger than most of the pieces I do, so it takes longer.
WC: With regards to the sculptures have you ever changed the materials and try using sheets of plastic or something more archival? Or is paper still the most accessible way to produce your work?
JS: I’ve made works out of wood before. Its pretty much the same process, just have to cut it out with a jigsaw instead of an Xacto. It is more sturdy, but does lack that fragile quality paper has. I still like working with paper, and can see myself working with other materials as well.
WC: The titles of many of your pieces convey cosmic imagery, as do the works themselves. Can you elaborate on this theme? Do you feel influenced by outer space and if so, what themes or things influence your work?
JS: I love the mystery and amazing universal shapes in science and space. It is crazy to think that huge things out in the universe can have the same shapes as tiny microorganisms under a microscope. Also, it is interesting to me how much we still don’t know about science and the way things work. I hope to maybe reveal (on a visual level) some truth or insight about these ideas.
WC: As you’re originally from Miami and studied in Baltimore and France what was the major factor in returning to Miami to pursue a career as a working artist? Besides the ocean, weather and Dwayne Wade…
JS: Ha, well since I grew up in Miami, I had a lot of friends here that were already part of the budding art scene. It just made sense for me to start here since I knew so many people. I love the warm weather too.
WC: What are you currently working on?
JS: Right now I’m thinking up ideas for a group show in Thailand in March–which I’ll be attending. My friend Logan Bay got a grant from apexart to create an art show at a screen-printing warehouse. And he asked me to be a part of it. Should be amazing.
Also, I’m working towards a 2-person show with Rory McArthur at Carol Jazzar Gallery in Miami.
Click here to see more of Jen’s work.