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Sommer Starks: One ≠ One

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Sommer Starks, a local educator and artist, is making some of the most innovative art that his area has seen in some time. Her intense understanding of color palettes and texture relationships, coupled with her clever constructions created with sometimes a dozen or more materials, become at once cruel, objective artifacts, as well as nearly totemic pieces, which evoke a host of meanings. In addition to her sculptural practice, she has also recently begun to produce delicate works of paper which use the silhouette, color, and the form of a human body to produce intimate spaces within the picture plane, and showing off a great technical prowess by rendering all of this by cutting paper.

"A successful piece is when I can knock somebody over and make them consider it," Starks says while in her South side studio. This Fort Wayne native understands art through more intuitive responses than a traditional art historical analysis. Starks recalled a painting in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's collection which made an impact on her when she was young, as well as the unique way which Rothko's paintings can make her feel "hollow", even using rather intense warm colors and simple shapes...and the way that this is amplified when viewing them in person.

Starks is trying to produce a psychological rather than cultural response in her viewers, jarring emotions rather than rational comparisons or contrasts. "That’s the problem I have with an ‘equal’ sign," Stark explains, adding that if there is an intent, she doesn't like the result of her work, preferring working through things until there is an organic creation of an object which has the correct emotional register. Because of this Starks' work is uniquely apolitical and self reflective. She describes the feeling which she is striving to create in her pieces as "what happens to the body and mind when you look at something".

While this approach to an artistic practice is effective in producing unique and powerful objects, it makes the work increasingly difficult to place in an art historical spectrum, lending further extensions of meaning and thus cultural capital too it. Starks quest to produce objects that produce emotional phenomenon rather than depict an idea or represent a thing places Starks' work with the phenomenological minimalism of Robert Morris, Donald Judd, and Bruce Nauman. However, the material choices of these objects nearly negate this through the use of found, atypical, base objects like exploded tires, masses of wire, chunks of older sculptures, and various cloths. While Starks' work is somewhat difficult to place, being somewhere in between the post minimalist's like Eva Hesse and Linda Benglis and rare artists who find powerful ways to cross many artistic styles and movements like Louise Bourgeois or Lee Bontecou, it always continues a simple route into everyday life through her material use or subject matter, often pertaining to the body. Starks sums up her aesthetic by mentioning, "I'm not trying to make a pictures from things; (I'm interested in) a shape or material which sometimes comes with a concept." She exposes her sincerity by saying later, "I only exhibit the things that I love."

An earlier piece of Starks, "Body Bag", made of cast latex, which has been used to produce documentation of it, and subsequently shredded, is slowly being incorporated into a piece which calls its current home the middle of Starks studio floor. On the opposite side of the room hangs a work in progress constructed from an assortment of objects, collected into strands, all hung like fruit on a tree, covered in remnants of pantyhose and other nylon materials. Fragments of past pieces, studies of current and lost projects, and finished pieces all inhabit the same space, struggling to survive as Starks destroys and recombines them.

While Starks' drawings are drastically different than her sculpture, visually, they also reflect her strong sense of color and deep understanding of form. These works consist of two sheets of paper, with a complex positive and negative relationship due to the addition of using cuts on the interior of the positive layer to create a false third layer to the image. Then Starks makes the images more robust by adding a fair amount of repetition of fluid shapes to make the viewers eye jaunt back and forth. And, ultimately, Starks works on paper have a more structured and traditional side to them, being that they represent natural forms like trees and the human body.

Because of Starks' insistence on creating emotional responses rather than easy depictions through her sculptural work, it has become rather difficult to see her work around the area. As Fort Wayne's art scene becomes more diverse, it’s clear that sculpture is certainly an under represented media. There are some objective reasons for this, like most sculptors needing a great deal of space to do their work, and sculpture being less likely to sell and thus be a main source of revenue for an artist. However, upon further inspection, it seems as though this is also a reality because of our popular venues stances on sculpture, especially particularly challenging sculpture, as well as installation as being difficult. Especially works made to utilize the space of the gallery liberally. Starks, being very patient and humble, has had the opportunity to exhibit her work locally, but certainly would like to see more galleries opening their doors to more experimental and large scale sculpture.

Once Fort Wayne's venues for exhibition begin to loosen their constraints on the display things like unconventional sculpture and installation work, artists like Sommer Starks can begin impacting our community at large with their less commercial, but no less expressive, and many times more vibrant works.

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