Psychedelic Paper Art or High-Level Math?

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Jen Stark's lush paper landscapes seem both psychedelic and scientific. Using trippy shapes and colors, she draws you into a place of quiet mystery. It's the kind of work that's equally at home on the covers of science magazines and billboards.

Mathematicians, in particular, get rather touchy feely about Stark's work — they send her notes comparing her sculptures to complex equations and theories of infinity. One e-mailed her a paper by Cornell University mathematician Karen Vogtmann, pointing out the similarities between Stark's Burst and Vogtmann's concept of Outer Space. That's not the space we know with the sun and the stars but rather a mathematical idea. An Outer Automorphism is a collection of groups, each filled with ways to map points of an object to itself, while maintaining the object’s deeper structure. It can get your brain all twisted up just thinking about it and so can Stark’s art objects.

Jen Stark's Burst alongside Karen Vogtmann's Outer Space
Jen Stark's Burst alongside Karen Vogtmann's Outer Space (via)

Stark is not a mathematician or scientist. She studied art in Maryland and in 2004, spent a summer in Aix-en-Provence. She found she couldn’t afford French pastels or oil paints, so she bought blocks of kiddy construction paper and began cutting. The meticulous, sequential work felt meditative, Stark says.

A single sculpture can take months to finish, built layer by wafer-thin layer. Stark makes everything by hand and has to pace herself so she doesn’t wreck her fingers. She's come up with a few cheats: she wears mittens and pads her X-Acto knife with cotton balls. Having a sense of humor helps too. For one sculpture, Stark cut 10,000 shapes of paper every day for 100 days. The title of the piece: How to Become a Millionaire in 100 Days.

Jen Stark in her studio (Peter Vahan)
How to Become a Millionaire in 100 Days
How to Become a Millionaire in 100 Days (2007)

Vortextural (2013)

Cosmic Complex
Cosmic Complex (2013) and Vividity (2012)