Jen Pack (born Astoria, Oregon, 1976) makes art to satisfy a compulsion. For this artist, everything happens in a liminal zone located between color and form, and painting and sculpture. Her work – largely fabric-based – is known for its bold use of color and she clearly pays homage to color field painters, but also to a certain fascination with Eva Hesse in both materials and materiality. Pack’s meticulously rendered pieces, comprised of multicolored lines and rectangles and other geometric shapes, have passed through the prism of pure aesthetics like James Turrell, and even writers like Octavia Butler. The works ultimately turn into spiritually charged compositions that explore color through fabric and its relationship to touch and our tactile knowledge of the world.
Some of Pack’s newest sculptures are currently on display at Exhibit by Aberson in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The group show, titled “Trifecta” and curated by Aberson’s Owner and Director Kim Fonder, features the work of abstract artists Jen Pack, Ken Tate and Brenda Zappitell through June 11, 2016.
Does abstraction automatically rhyme with poetry due to its intrinsic qualities and the disorienting effect it has on perception?
I believe this is a good description of a relationship between abstraction and poetry. Both seem to have their own aesthetic language and use of symbolism, and also aim to evoke meaning by deconstruction. I feel like both poetry and abstraction are very auditory – they rely on rhythm and make noise.
Deconstructing reality through abstract shapes and concepts is the equivalent of erasing and then re-creating reality: Is this process of deconstruction a way of rejecting and even forgetting the outside world?
I don’t really see it as an erasure. I think (for me) it feels like an activity of intense seeing, and through intense seeing, there is a need to drill down to elementals. Maybe this is a way of understanding and subsuming reality – to focus on concrete and tactile materials while questioning meaning. There is an element of turning inward in this process that could be perceived as forgetting the outside world. Sometimes it is necessary to turn inward to understand the outward.
Our readers would like to find out more about how you give life to your works from the first tiny, embryonal fiber to the final phase of creation. How do images first take form in your mind and what happens next?
It depends on the piece. Some are highly engineered, and by this, I mean the only way they can come to life is through very careful planning. “Dazzle Me Pink” is an example of this process. I have a shape in my mind and sketch it out. Then I have to do the math to figure out the angles and elevation on such an irregular shape. Conceptualizing it is only the first step, building it is the real challenge and my skill set is growing as I attempt to build more complex shapes. I reference the sketch while choosing fabric colors and sewing the piece together, but there are also a lot of decisions and variations that happen along the way. Sometimes a piece will take a surprising turn and wants to be completely different than what was planned. The pieces really come to life when they are stretched on the frames. Up until that point, it is unsure if they will be successful or not.
There are also pieces that aren’t so structured in their conception. Many of the patchwork pieces are examples of this. These are more a process of placing and rearranging and experimenting, and very often are made from remnants of prior works. I don’t sketch these out first, they evolve as they are created. Many of the thread works are like this as well, although some of them are very structured and require a pre-planned approach.
After sketching up your ideas, you focus on the tactile and technical aspects of your work: You figure out the right materials and aesthetic juxtapositions to use, then you start exploring the infinite potential of your compositions through form and color.
This is especially a good description of the patchwork pieces, as explained above. They are more about composition than structure.
Are you obsessed with symmetry?
I’d say I’m actually more interested in asymmetry. My work is becoming more irregular in shape, it is a real challenge to build the shapes. But the ones that are more compositional tend to have symmetrical frames. I almost feel like symmetry is an illusion and that some of the most beautiful objects, faces, and concepts exist in asymmetry. I guess I don’t believe perfect balance is achievable or desirable.
What do you feel when you know for sure one of your works is ready for an audience?
It feels satisfying, but there is always an element of anxiety when allowing the work to face the world. Since there is always more to learn, it doesn’t feel entirely ready. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but it is the truth.
Do you ever discard any of your sculptures?
I have definitely had to scrap some pieces. I don’t throw away the frames or the sewn piece, though. I tend to reuse the frames for a new piece and put the sewn piece in my scrap box. They can be reused to create new work at a later time.
Art is and has always been about communicating with our innermost selves to scan and re-organize our perceptions and ultimately share those perceptions with others. Do you think art is supposed to be “meaningful?”
This is the question of the universe – what is meaning, what is art, is my perception the same as yours? There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer and art has many meanings – it is whatever the viewer perceives it to be. It may simply be perceived as beautiful, or monetary, or induce anger or humor. At its best, I think it can invoke contemplation and questioning. But it doesn’t have to be meaningful, and one viewer’s meaningful work of art may be another’s piece of crap. It’s an unresolvable question.
Do you try to convey specific meanings in your own work?
In my work, I am not as much interested in conveying a specific message as I am in a continual investigation and embracing uncertainty. I am a truth seeker, and my work is the evidence of one activity in my life in which I seek the truth. In terms of the viewer, I strive to invoke contemplation of meaning rather than subscribing meaning.
Your sculptures definitely belong to the world of fine art, however, abstraction also often rhymes with craft, decorativism and design. What do you think about such negative connotations often associated with abstract art?
I don’t see the association of craft with my work as negative, it is just another approach the viewer may have to engage with the work. I don’t think the association is accurate because the product, and my intentions, are not aligned with craft. I am not offended by it, but it isn’t the whole picture. That perception is there because people associate fabric with craft. But I use fabric very differently than most people who sew. The work is very hybrid and doesn’t fit very neatly in any space. I am okay with that but will admit I can get frustrated when it is perceived as one way OR the other – I don’t think it is too much to ask to see it as something that may straddle multiple spaces. Most people have a hard time with ambiguity and want clear delineations, and my work tends to challenge this desire.
In his “Real Fact #966” Snapple cap IG post, Charles Lutz writes: “If you look on the back of any contemporary process-based abstract painting, you will find an expiration date in 2015.” How would you answer this provocative and nearly offensive statement?
He is welcome to his opinion.