Jen Stark And The Cosmic Appeal Of Paper

What happens when you combine the universe, bright colors and a stack of construction paper? If you’re Jen Stark, the answer is mesmerizing sculptures that look like they belong in another plane of existence. The LA-based artist offered us a peek at new artwork that represents the "Cosmic" style she’ll be showing at this year’s Art Basel, plus some of her early — we mean, all-I-want-for-Christmas-is-my-two-front-teeth early — drawings. To get an idea of how she’s able to make such fun creations, we talked to Jen about her childhood spent painting Cabbage Patch dolls with her grandfather (awwww), how she started using paper and why doing things again and again and again brings her so much joy.

Milk Made: How did you start in the arts?

Jen Stark: My grandfather was a hobby artist. He did watercolor paintings of landscapes and waterbirds, Miami-inspired stuff, and he nurtured me as well. I decided to go to an art school in Baltimore called the Maryland Institute College of Art, M.I.C.A . My junior year I decided to study abroad in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France that was an amazing experience. It took me out of my comfort zone, and since I was a broke college student I couldn’t afford all the expensive supplies at the art store in France so I decided to try and find the cheapest material I could work with and that was a dollar stack of construction paper.

MM: Is that why you use paper to this day?

JS: Yes, pretty much it started with a little bit of experimenting. I love details and intricate work and how paper is such a common material and everybody uses it in their lives, and I love transforming it into something unexpected and intricate.

MM: What is your process when making these sculptures?

JS: The process usually is I sit down at my desk with color pencils and markers and start sketching out ideas on a sheet of paper. Once I figure out the shape and color of the sculpture I want to do, I’ll take the paper and figure out all the colors and order. I cut it with an X-Acto knife by hand. Each layer is cut one by one, then I glue all the layers together with an archival glue. I cut out a wood backing for them and mount it on them so that they’ll be strong.

MM: You’ve stated before that you love to be tedious. Where does the love of being tedious come from?

JS: I’m not a really OCD person in my life but with my art work it’s the satisfaction of doing intricate kind of work all day. There’s a joy I get from it which is weird but it happens. I don’t know, I’ve always liked repetitive motion; things like that make me happy.

MM: Which artists inspire you?

JS: Oh boy! There’s quite a list of artists that inspire me but if I can sum it up in a few I would say. Anish Kapoor, Paper Rad, Tom Friedman, Andy Goldsworthy, Takeshi Murata, Matt Furie, Allison Schulnik and Aurel Schmidt — those kinds of artists.

MM: What’s the range of paper you might go through for a sculpture?

JS: For each piece it’s typically anywhere from 50 layers minimum (i.e. Radial Reverie) to the maximum of maybe 150 sheets of paper (i.e. The Whole). I just got a shipment of paper in today from the art store so I’m always just going through it like crazy and I try to use as much as I can. And I keep my scraps and reuse and recycle them so I don’t waste anything.

MM: Can you tell me more about your relationship with your grandfather? Have you guys ever collaborated?

JS: Yes, when I was younger my grandpa would invite me over to his house and we would have our own papers and paint little still lives of one of my dolls or a flower in a vase. Do you remember Cabbage Patch dolls? I remember one time, my grandpa and I were painting my favorite Cabbage Patch doll. I remember him laughing and saying, Wow, yours looks even better than mine. I was, I don’t know, maybe 8 years old and I remember thinking, hmmm maybe I can do this art thing and make it work if I’m better than my grandpa. He was just probably trying to make me feel good but he was really encouraging. Our styles are completely different but he helped nurture me. He passed away a few years ago. I’ll always remember him. I tell people how he’s the one that made it happen.

MM: What is your favorite color?

JS: Oh boy! That question is really tough for me but, if I have to pick one it would probably be aqua mint.

MM: You’ve stated that the inspiration for your sculptures come from nature and different aspects of the universe. Where does the inspiration for your drawings come from?

JS:The drawings are still inspired by that but they’re more for me. They’re a way for my mind to just breath. The sculptures are structured and I have to go through this strict process to create them. The drawings are spontaneous, I literally put paper down in front of me and start making a little mark here and a little there and it just grows. I see them as these crazy space clouds and chaos.

MM: What do you want people to take away after seeing you art?

JS: The main thing is I want people to be inspired by it for their own lives. To make people happy, give them a sense of "ahhh" to see such common materials be transformed into something amazing.

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