One of the more challenging feats for any artist working today is to develop a instantly recognizable visual style. Miami-born, LA-based artist Jen Stark has managed to do just that with her rainbow wormholes and melting rainbows. You probably even know Stark’s work without realizing it—in 2015, millennial godhead Miley Cyrus tapped Stark’s work as the visual accompaniment to the VMAs. So when The Standard was looking to acknowledge the Supreme Court's historic 2015 decision on same sex marriage (RBG! RBG!), Stark immediately sprang to mind. Who better to re-imagine the “rainbow” for these contemporary times? Stark created a “Radiate” patch design (now worn by our rooftop staff), and a flag that flies proudly over The Standard, Downtown LA. We asked LA abstract expressionist (and Standard pal) Lisa Solberg to sit down with Stark to talk Miley, meditation, and how she constructs her insanely elaborate creations.We'll let Solberg take it from here...
If you’re like me, it can be extremely difficult to sit still for more than 10 minutes. How then, does Jen Stark remain so hyper-focused and physically still while creating her detail-driven rainbow art? The answer, she says, is not Adderall—or any stimulant for that matter—which can make the rest of us feel pretty worthless. Stark is on a quest to discover unknowns about the universe via her meditative explorations. She lives and breathes color. I tried my best to sit still and talk with Jen about Miley Cyrus, feminism, and color, among other topics. To be honest, it’s quite weird that the universe hadn’t brought us together sooner—or so I’d like to think.
JEN STARK: The Standard contacted me because they wanted to do something to commemorate all of the progress the LGBT community has made. Since my work is very colorful and rainbow, they thought it could be an amazing match. We decided to do a flag on their rooftop. I called it “Radiate” because my work has a lot of energy in it and seems to propel forward.
It radiates like the sun.
Yes, exactly. It’s kind of a simple design—it’s like my work minimized to the very core. I wanted to help empower that community. It’s this perfect, beautiful storm that worked out amazingly.
Was that your first time your work has been tied to the LGBT community?
I think so, yes.
The wormhole that you did for Miley Cyrus’ MTV Video Awards was so cool. How did that collaboration come together?
It was a weird coincidence. I had met Miley through my friend Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, and he’s best friends with her—they’re really tight. He invited me over to her house one day, we hung out, and she liked my work. A few days later, I got a text from a random number and it was Miley texting me an image of her in front of a billboard with my artwork on it for MTV. She asked, “Is something you’d want to do?”
So she had already put it together for you?
Yes, and it was still a big secret that she was hosting the award show. Coincidentally, MTV presented her with my work about three days after we met. They told her, “This artist is cool. She’s psychedelic. We think she could be a perfect fit.” And Miley was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy—I just met her.” So after that I was onboard. Miley is so cool. She’s very free and does her own thing. She’s a very psychedelic person, too.
What does it mean to be a psychedelic person?
She just does what she wants.
That’s definitely a difficult thing for a lot of people to do.
Yes, especially celebrities.
Miley is a very pronounced feminist and such a strong female icon. How do you relate to feminism, if at all?
I think I am a feminist. I’ve never labeled myself as one. I don’t really like labeling myself, but I think I am. The older I get, the more feminist I become by just empowering women and trying to make things more equal in the world.
Maybe it’s realizing what an impact you have on so many other females.
That’s what it’s all about—inspiring other people, and inspiring young women, that’s amazing. Young women and girls are seeing what another woman can achieve, and I think that’s incredible.
I wouldn’t say it’s emotional because once I make it I’m not really attached to it like a lot of other artists. I just get it out in the world and I want other people to see it. I would say it’s more spiritual and meditative. It’s more about the process of brainstorming and coming up with the ideas. That’s the fun part for me. Psychedelia, consciousness, where we came from, mysteries of the universe—I plant all of those ideas in my work.
You produce a ton of work, and it’s obvious that it would be impossible for you to do that all on your own.
In order to execute big ideas I think it’s good to have help. In the beginning of my art practice, I was hesitant to bring other people into it because I was controlling. I didn’t want it to suffer from other people’s help. But it’s been the opposite. Other people’s help has been amazing and has helped me grow. My work still has my hands in it. I’ll always make sure the backbone of it has me, and I’ll always work on the pieces, too.
Well, for the drip pattern, for instance, I’ll actually draw all of the lines by hand, and others color them in. With paper sculptures, I’ll do the cutting myself because it’s kind of impossible for someone else to do that part—it would look like their hand. But then I’ll have help putting it together when it comes to the tedious stuff, like the in-between layers that you don’t see, or the gluing.
Do you feel free in the iconic Jen Stark aesthetic system? Your style has evolved, but it’s very Jen Stark.
I definitely feel free in that. It’s amazing to be able to have my own style and to have it evolve and have people recognize that. I guess my main styles would be the paper sculptures, the intricate cutting designs, and the dripping, but I do like to keep pushing and challenging myself. I will definitely keep evolving. I wouldn’t want to do the same thing over and over my whole life.
I would love to keep doing more public art because I think that’s the most powerful, and people don’t have to go into a gallery or a museum to view it. I would like to keep pushing that and also do some really huge outdoor public sculptures that incorporate some kind of renewable energy.
Do you mix your colors, or are they straight out of the bottle?
With my rainbow schemes, I’ll usually mix because it’s hard to get the perfect color. But with a lot of the random colors, I’ll just try to use colors straight out of the bottle because it’s easy. As long as they’re opaque enough and I like the color it’s cool.
Is there some sort of color theory, or do you just go with what you feel?
I took color theory in college, so I absorbed all of that, but in my own way of choosing colors, it’s very instinctual. I’ll just know what colors to put next to each other. Usually it deals with contrasting, light and dark hues, stuff like that, but it’s pretty much just my brain deciding. I normally don’t have to think about it too hard.
No. I don’t use color everywhere in my life. Right now my bedroom is very white and clean with a lot of green plants. I don’t immerse myself in a crazy amount of color. I think it’s like a good balance. I haven’t gotten sick of it.
I think about ADD and ADHD a lot because I find it really hard to sit down for more than ten minutes. What sort of methods do you use to stay focused? I’m sure you have to really stay put for long periods of time.
I don’t have ADHD, which is good because I can focus a lot longer. I think I have a lot of self-discipline. I have a meditation practice that I’ve been doing for about a year. It helps to meditate twice a day—twenty minutes each time if I’m good.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m going to have a solo show in New York at the Eric Firestone Gallery this the fall. I’m also going to start making clothing. It’s in the very beginning stages, but in the next couple of months I’ll start coming out with some drippy outfits and stuff like that. It’s going to be through my website. I have a friend helping with the screenprinting, so I’ll have all of the artistic creative freedom and he is executing it. We’re thinking it will come out in the next couple of months.