How Alex Stark Is Creating Space

A headshot of a person with a mustache and beard in a brightly colored floral t-shirt

Alex Stark. Image courtesy of the artist

Alex Stark. Image courtesy of the artist

by Peyton Sauer (BFA 2022)

Inside and outside of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Alex Stark (BFA 2016) is creating inclusive environments for artists.

Stark is an advisor for [15]SAIC’s Disability and Learning Resource Center [15] (DLRC). Informed by his experience as an artist, disabled person, queer person, and alum, Stark works with the School to provide accessible student spaces. These have included student-led panels, where community members discussed important issues like the School’s accommodation processes and what experiences made them feel a sense of belonging at SAIC.

“The DLRC has ... given me a platform to learn a little more about disability and see lived intersectional disability experiences. These are conversations that maybe I wouldn’t have experienced in the same way,” said Stark. 

A person reads from a piece of paper as part of a panel in front of a crowd in a modern art space

Stark leading a panel at Voices Embodied: Convergence. Image courtesy of the artist

Stark leading a panel at Voices Embodied: Convergence. Image courtesy of the artist

Outside of SAIC, Stark is a curator and artist. His painting practice is extensive, and he creates more than a dozen pieces each year. Stark’s work is visceral, tactile, and covers a wide variety of themes involving the body and the self. “My painting work is ... about my experiences with physicality, personal experiences, and I use a lot of bird imagery, figure imagery,” Stark shared. “The figures are nude and it’s kind of about visibility but also connection, and that ties into nature and the natural state of things.” Stark also experiences double vision (when you see two images of the same object), and the idea of symmetry is challenged in much of his work. 

In his curatorial work, Stark is interested in the story being told by a piece and how it interacts within a space. “I think of paintings or artwork kind of as having a voice. And so, I’m really interested in what a conversation between multiple pieces could be in that case. I want to create an environment where people can respond to [those conversations] and ask questions.”

A painting of a pink figure on a beach surrounded by purple ostriches

Alex Stark, Utterings of the Infinite. Image courtesy of the artist

Alex Stark, Utterings of the Infinite. Image courtesy of the artist

One such example of this is the Voices Embodied Project [16], an ongoing series of exhibitions curated by Stark. The series considers disability and how it relates to conversations about identity, access, and the body. The project began in 2019 with a focus on an intimate body of SAIC student work. Since then it has expanded to include work by alums, faculty members, and artists exploring similar themes outside of SAIC. “My curating is very community-oriented and I like to think of who I’m engaging. It reflects on the idea of bringing people together,” explained Stark.

In addition to his work in Chicago, Stark founded an artist-run gallery space called Rare Visions [17] Gallery Project in Boulder, Colorado, in 2018. The space celebrates the diversity and expression present in contemporary art and creates an open, accepting environment.

“I think of paintings or artwork kind of as having a voice. And so, I’m really interested in what a conversation between multiple pieces could be.”

For Stark, all of his practices influence each other. Ideas of unity and conversation are prevalent throughout Stark’s projects, and he aims to connect his work to the larger disability community.

“Working with the DLRC, I’ve felt supported in engaging with parts of disability culture and bringing that back to the school setting. I guess that’s made me think a little more generally about community.” shared Stark.

A modern white gallery space with text on the wall and platforms with sculptures

Installation view of Voices Embodied: Extensions. Photo: Claire Demos

Installation view of Voices Embodied: Extensions. Photo: Claire Demos

As for the future of inclusivity, Stark already has a few ideas. “I’ve actually been thinking about the future a lot,” explained Stark. “Right now, with the DLRC, I’m working on this show that’s about the climate crisis. The climate crisis is something that gets talked about in disability communities; who gets left behind, who has access, and who’s making the plans. So, I think that being part of a more inclusive community means that everyone’s included in the planning. I think it is really important that all voices should be valued in that way.” ■

Stark’s virtual gallery on the climate crisis was part of Realizing a Compassionate Planet. Click here [18] to view the gallery and watch sessions from this event.

{{[http://www.saic.edu/news/alums]ALUMS}} {{[http://www.saic.edu/news/artconnectsus]ART CONNECTS US}} {{[http://www.saic.edu/news/facultystaff]FACULTY & STAFF}}