Erica Rae Stark's woodcut prints are the anti-tech cure you didn't know you needed.  In a world where so many of our experiences are digital, Stark's is a welcome return to analog. The visceral quality of handcarved woodcuts (and their resulting prints) suits her subject matter well. 

While I've seen Stark's work before, most recently at the 2018 Urbana Art Expo, the opportunity to learn more about her and her work has only heightened my excitement about her new show, which will open this Friday evening at International Galleries.

Smile Politely: How did you first get interested in woodcut prints? 

Erica Rae Stark: I have a BFA in art with a concentration in drawing from Oliver Nazarene University. That's where I first took printmaking classes.

SP:  What is it about this form that continues to speak to you? 

Stark:  There are two reasons I choose this form. First, the wood itself is natural. By carving into it and transforming it, I am also connecting to nature through my process. The
 second reason has to do with the history of woodcut printmaking. The art of illustration is closely linked to the 
industrial process of printing. With the invention of the printing press during the 15th century, books were 
often illustrated with woodcuts. Though today we have more advanced technology to reproduce artwork, the
 aesthetic of woodcut prints reminds us of old fairy tales and fables. This association along with symbolism,
 simplicity, and visual flow helps give my work a magical quality.

SP:  Do you ever work with other media? 

Stark: In addition to wood, I also carve linoleum because the print appearance is similar to a woodcut and therefore carries the same association. I occasionally
 choose it over wood because it is easier to carve details and it holds up well when used to print multiple editions
over time.

SP: Your work has an ethereal sensibility while being grounded in the natural world, both in terms of technique and subject. Can you tell me more about that?  

Stark: The purpose of my work has always been to portray something I can’t put into words. I feel as though that something in my current work is a kind of magic I sense when I experience certain aspects of nature and 
particular objects that cause me to feel wonder. Some examples are mushrooms, moths, and the moon. I also 
aim to point to the natural origin of manmade things or how we connect to nature while simultaneously
 creating something new.

SP: What else has inspired your work? 

Stark: In addition to traditional woodcut illustrations, they are also inspired by the styles of Art Nouveau, illuminated letters, and tattoos. I think I am drawn to these approaches to design because they have mystical ties. My artistic purpose, practice, and inspiration all stem from this something more that I cannot quite
 describe.

SP:  What's next for you? 

Stark: I'll be showing work at the upcoming Resist 3 Art Event, March 2nd and 3rd at the IMC.

———

Stark is a thoughtful artist with a deep connection to the history of her chosen form. Her exploration of the unseen, the magical, the indescribable, adds a layer of depth that makes her work worth coming back time and again. Best of all, her work is accessible and is available framed and unframed, at varying price points. In short, this is the type of art you want to (and can likely afford to) make a part of your life. 

So this Friday, meet Erica Rae Stark, ask her questions, get to know her, and take home a piece of her magic. Keep it as a reminder to step away from new technology every now and then and reacquaint yourself with natural world and its many mysteries 

Stark's illustrated initial prints, which harken back to illuminated manuscripts, have a lovely romantic quality and are perfect for gifts to loved ones or to oneself.  

Erica Rae Stark is also available for commissions. Learn more about her and her work on the Stark Illustrations Facebook page

Woodcut Prints by Erica Rae Stark
Opening Reception: February 1st, 4 to 7 p.m. 
International Galleries
Lincoln Square Mall, Urbana
Work will remain up throughout the month

Photos taken from Stark Illustrations Facebook page.