The Colors of Jen Stark

In The Menu, Visual Arts by Danny BrodyLeave a Comment

Jen Stark

As one slips slides and careens in and out and down the rabbit-hole of LA artist Jen Stark’s hallucinogenic work, one is reminded of Alice in Wonderland’s fall into that almost never-ending burrow. “Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time to look about.” And like Alice, who grabs onto objects, examines them, and places them back down while she is tumbling, Jen Stark’s pieces simultaneously entice and mystify with their many-colored and multi-dimensional elements that at first delight the eyes, and then more deeply, challenge perception. Stark’s meticulously crafted sculptures, assembled from giant stacks of colored card-stock paper hand-cut to mathematical precision, formed the basis of her practice as a young artist starting out in Miami. Her many public works of drippy painting, which will often start on the ceiling and dribble down the walls, almost command the viewer to complete the work in their unconscious mind, while swaddling the senses in a warm and tingly psychedelic rush. They create an environment that is somehow both intimate and infinite.

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Chromatic Cascade (mural at 1825 Conway Place in the Arts District, Los Angeles) 2017 latex paint approx. 200 x 27 ft

These qualities give her work a broad appeal, and in 2015 led MTV to ask her to do some design work for the VMA’s, which were hosted by then-enfant-terrible Miley Cyrus, who was on fire in the public eye. “That project was kind of insane,” said Jen. “I had met Miley one weekend through Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, he was talking up my work. They have a pretty similar visual aesthetic, so she became a fan, too.” A few days later Jen got a text from an unknown number. “It was Miley texting me a photo of a mockup of her posing with my work, and she said ‘this is so secret, but do you want to do the artwork for the VMA’s, I’m going to be the host?’ So I was like, hell yeah!”


Miley Cyrus, MTV VMA’s, 2015, Jen Stark artwork


When MTV had presented some of Jen’s work to Miley, Miley told them, “That’s crazy, I just met her like three days ago!” Jen said. “It was kind of a perfect coincidence, and since she was a fan of my work, she helped push the artwork to go a little further.” Jen got to do the stage design, and a gigantic hand-painted billboard on Hollywood and Vine. “I was also animating crazy things like wormholes and psychedelic dripping patterns,” she said, and got to redesign the MTV logo with her signature drippy colors. “Yeah, it was a whirlwind,” she said, “kind of a dream.”


Miley Cyrus, MTV VMA’s, 2015, Jen Stark artwork


Jen’s career has taken off in the five years she’s been in Los Angeles, but her career as an artist started in her hometown of Miami. “Miami was really fun when we were all starting out,” said Jen, “and there was a real collaborative energy. My first official mural was in the Sagamore Hotel, 2007-ish, it feels so long ago.” She gets back to Miami about three times a year, including for Art Basel, and she stays through the holidays to hang out with her family and friends. “I’ll be there soon for an orientation for a public arts project I was shortlisted for. Hopefully I’ll get to do a big hometown sculpture in Miami so that would be really cool!” she said. She also has a large mural out at Miami International Airport that she created in 2014 that takes over an entire hallway. “The ceiling is painted and it oozes down the walls,” she said, “and a lot of people walk through there since it is near the public transportation, so it gets a lot of traffic. I love that mural.”


Wormhole (hanging sculpture installation inside the Fashion Outlets of Chicago, 2013, PVC, spray paint, wire, 8 x 8 x 20 ft


One of Jen’s largest projects to date is actually two installations in the Fashion Outlets of Chicago, a gigantic shopping center and mall near O’Hare Airport, in Rosemont, Illinois. Primary Projects of Miami curated the project for the developer, Arthur Weiner, of AWE Talisman. They selected artists such as Daniel Arsham, Jim Drain, Norberto Rodriguez, FriendsWithYou, and others, to create a different kind of retail experience, an art-filled space. “This was his (Weiner’s) baby,” said Jen, “and he wanted to make sure the mall had an amazing art collection. So he partnered with Primary Projects to bring in awesome artists.” Both of Jen’s installations are massive.


Drippy (installation inside the Fashion Outlets of Chicago), 2013, latex paint, approx. 25 x 25 ft


“Installing two works at the same time was crazy!” she said. “The hanging ‘Wormhole’ sculpture (which is an 8×20 foot multi-colored steel structure), was made in L.A. and shipped in pieces to Chicago. So while I was putting that together onsite, I was also working on the mural.” The hand-painted “Drippy” mural covers the entire underside of an escalator, and the pieces are about 200 feet apart. “I was kind of bouncing back and forth, waiting for the spray paint to dry on the mural,” she said, “while also assembling the ‘Wormhole’. I had 5 or 6 people helping to paint the mural, but it was very detailed, and labor intensive. I was in Chicago for a month, so two big projects in a month. It was crazy.”


Las Jaras Wine Label by Jen Stark


In 2017, Jen took on a new challenge, a work so small that it fits on a wine bottle. Eric Wareheim, co-creator of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show”, and currently involved in Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None”, decided to start making wine, and he called on some of his artist friends to create the labels. “When my career was starting out, a little more than ten years ago,” said Jen, “I was selling some prints online and Eric ordered one, and I was like, wow, that’s that amazing art genius guy! So I  wrote him an email and said hey I’m a big fan of your work, and he wrote back that he was a big fan of my work and we just started a friendship that way.” On periodic trips from Miami to L.A., often for art fairs, Jen and Eric would get together, “and that’s how we started our friendship. And when I moved here, we just happened to move into the same neighborhood as him. We kind of became best friends, and Sam Borkson, of FriendsWithYou,” a good friend of Jen’s, and another Miami artist who had made the trip west, “became friends with him as well.” So when Eric started Las Jaras Wines, he enlisted some of his artist friends, including Chloe Wise, Duke Aber, Amanny Ahmad, Sam, and Jen, to create labels for the bottles. “What’s cool about it is that it’s all natural wines, organic, and it’s processed so there’s a lot less sulfites,” she said. “I think natural wines don’t give you as much of a hangover, plus it’s really delicious wine. They did an awesome job.” Eric chose which wine would go with each personality. “He said he wanted me to do the Pet-Nat (Pétillant Naturel, a sparkling rosé) because it’s kind of funky, kind of bubbly, and it’s fun, but not too overpowering!” she said, chuckling.


Tunnel Vision (public sculpture in Santa Monica, CA), 2018, laser-cut steel, enamel paint, 5 x 5 x 20 ft


Currently Jen is focusing on “big sculptures in parks”, and her piece “Tunnel Vision” was just installed in a park near the Santa Monica Pier, commissioned by the city of Santa Monica’s Cultural Affairs Division. It consists of ten steel rings, 20 feet long and five feet high. “It’s my signature wormhole rings that are morphing,” she said, “and it is installed right into the ground. One side is a rainbow gradient and the other side is black and white, so it will change depending on the viewer’s perspective.” The work coexists with and absorbs the natural iridescence that surrounds it, and puts one in mind of Yayoi Kusama’s ground-breaking work.


Tunnel Vision (public sculpture in Santa Monica, CA), 2018, laser-cut steel, enamel paint, 5 x 5 x 20 ft


Jen’s influences, from Yayoi Kusama to Sol Lewitt, are evidenced in this and other work, and she is also inspired by contemporary artists like Andy Goldsworthy, “how he does simple and beautiful designs in nature”, and Tom Friedman, “for his crazy concepts and uses of simple material”, and Tara Donovan “for the same reason, taking very simple material and transforming it. I love her stuff,” she said. One can also see in her work the vestiges of Color Field artists like Morris Louis, whose flowing lines of color drip down the canvas, sometimes pooling at the bottom of the canvas, sometimes meeting in the middle; or in the colors of Helen Frankenthaler, invented anew with each work. The “Wormhole”, like another exegesis of Alice’s mystical passageway, seems to take on a life of its own, and leaves the viewer wondering, as with much of Jen Stark’s work, whether one is falling down the rabbit-hole, or if one has, in fact, arrived.


Holographic Gradient
2018
Limited edition print of 150
2 Color Hand Printed Serigraph on holographic paper
24 x 30 in

Gold Pedestal 2017 wood, paint & glue 34 x 23 x 23 in

(All Photos Courtesy The Artist)

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Danny Brody is the author of The Cold Shake (2018), a noir novel of ‘70’s New York, and The Gilded Palace of Sin (2008), a collection of poems. He created the seminal Miami food blog, Daily Cocaine, penned numerous food, wine, and booze columns for the Miami Herald, and wrote The Art of Hunger column for MAP Magazine. He has also written art, design, and architecture pieces for Modern Luxury Magazine, Design District Magazine, Social Affairs, and Art New Orleans. He lives in the South Bronx.

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