Art Basel Miami '13 Interview Series: Jen Stark Talks the Spiritual Influences Behind Her Psychedelic Sculptures

Art Basel Miami '13 Interview Series: Jen Stark Talks the Spiritual Influences Behind Her Psychedelic SculpturesImage via Jen Stark

Jen Stark is the type of artist whose work mystifies you. How does she create such intricate kaleidoscopic sculptures that make you want to jump into a rainbow vortex and never come back? Well, we've learned in our interview with her, pegged to her two new pieces with Martha Otero Gallery at PULSE art fair during Art Basel Miami Beach, that she cuts each layer by hand using an X-ACTO knife—no computers allowed.

But that's not all. Her work is loaded with meaning, beyond its eclectic, exterior trippiness. Stark has held a spiritual philosophy behind the psychedelic nature of her work, which she explains below, in addition to letting us know why she moved from Miami to LA and what other artists inspire her work.

What work are you bringing with you to Art Basel Miami Beach this year with Martha Otero Gallery? Did you make it especially for the fair?
I'm installing a hole-in-the-wall paper sculpture called Vortextural, which I made this summer. It will be at PULSE art fair. I'm also showing a new psychedelic dripping painting called Ooze that was made especially for the fair.

What do you like and dislike about showing work in the setting of a fair?
I like showing in fairs because you get to meet new people if you stick around long enough, and your work gets lots of exposure. The thing I dislike about fairs would be how temporary they are. It seems like such a big operation, and to only be open for 4 or 5 days seems too short. I wish they could be open for a longer amount of time.

What has it been like to watch the Art Basel scene get so crazy over the years, since you used to live in Miami? What do you like or dislike about living in LA now?
Seeing Miami transform during Basel has been so drastic over the years. I've been attending every year since 2005, and I love the way the city comes to life and all the events, but it also feels strange in a way. Really run-down areas get a superficial coat of paint and fancy lights, and tourists rent them out for a few days. Then as fast as they came, they're gone and the boards go back up on the windows, and the neighborhood is back to its run-down self. Art Basel is always madness, good and bad. There seems to be more and more things and art events happening every year, which gets hard to keep track of. 

I really love Miami and will always call it my home, but LA is where I'm living now, and I'm loving it. The landscapes and weather are so new and exciting to me. I was used to every day being wet, soggy, and humid, but in LA things are very dry and mild. It's a great place to be working with paper, because the paper doesn't wrinkle or do weird things, because there is very little humidity. There are tons of young creative people that live there and seems like more are moving there by the minute. The city has a lot of energy right now, and I'm excited to see what it will turn into. I'm excited to be a part of it.

What most people may not immediately realize about your work, amongst obvious references to psychedelia, nature, and the cosmos, is your interest in math, especially with the "to the power of…" exhibition at Martha Otero. Can you explain how you arrived at the connection between exponential growth and control for that exhibit and how math may or may not influence all of your practice, physically and conceptually?
Yes, I've always loved the idea of math in nature. There are so many natural forms that have complex mathematical equations that we don't even know how to calculate, yet is seems like this equation flows through so many living things from fractals to snowflakes, and from the shape of a hurricane to the similar-looking milky way galaxy. I love to think that there is a secret answer to all these mysteries and am trying to discover it through my artwork.

How long does it take to make one of your pieces, on average? How much of your practice involves a computer and how much is done by hand?
It typically takes anywhere from a week to a few months to create depending on size and complexity. None of the paper sculptures are created using a computer. I cut each layer by hand with an X-ACTO knife.

Is any of your work influenced by your childhood, as in, discovering colors, kaleidoscopes, and otherwise, or were these discoveries a part of your adulthood?
Yes, definitely exploring in the wet greenery of Miami gave me a love of plants and the outdoors. I've always been fascinated by how they grow and the shapes. I also have a love for kaleidoscopic imagery and optical illusions. They are so fascinating and have so much mystery behind them.

Can you talk about the spiritual aspect of your work, as it relates to your continued interest in science and psychedelia? Often, people think spirituality and science can't exist together, but in art, it often seems like they can and should. How have you examined all of these things together in your art and learned about them over time?
There is such a power in spirituality, and I feel that same power runs through nature. The universe seems to have a powerful force flowing through it running through trees, our thoughts, and the water. I think psychedelia helps us discover this life-force and understand it. It enables us to have empathy and be grateful for where we are. I hope to uncover these ideas through my artwork.

What visual artists did you grow up admiring? Do you feel like you've translated any of their aesthetic or practices into your art-making? Is there anyone in the Op Art space right now making work that inspires you?
I've been inspired by Tom Friedman, Andy Goldsworthy, Heronymous Bosch, MC Escher, Salvador Dali, and many, many more. I have definitely been influenced by their different styles of art-making and am certain I've adopted some of those ideas into my own artwork. I think all artists pull from each other and borrow ideas all the time. It's a great big art-brain soup, and we're all learning from each other and getting inspired. It's important to find your own voice though and create a unique style.

What music are you listening to these days?
I'm listening to James Blake, Miguel, and Awesome Mix Tapes From Africa.

What's your advice for aspiring artists?
My advice to aspiring artists is to explore and really focus on what you love. Get advice, work hard, and discover your own unique style. If you really work hard at it, I believe you can become successful. That is, only if you really want it.

What are your plans after Miami? Any upcoming exhibitions or projects to keep on our radar?
After Miami I plan to go to Mexico for a little while, then start cranking out the artwork again. Some commissions in the near future, and possible public art work on the horizon.

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