Spiva catches fish exhibit

Artist Larry Stark stands by one of his photographic serigraphs, Photo by Kip Ruhl. Stark´s collection Fishing America is on exhibit at Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin through Oct. 24.

Artist Larry Stark stands by one of his photographic serigraphs, “Photo by Kip Ruhl.” Stark´s collection “Fishing America” is on exhibit at Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin through Oct. 24.

Melissa Dunson

Larry Stark isn’t just fishing for compliments.For Stark, 63, Wisconsin, fishing is an obsession, a life’s work and an artistic expression. After starting his adult life as an accountant, Stark discovered his photographic talent to take general statements about our culture and portray them in simple photos that speak volumes.Jo Mueller, director of the Center, discovered Stark by accident when she found a copy of one of his “Fishing America” art posters that had been sent to the previous director. The poster was hidden in a cardboard tube and buried under miscellaneous paper work.While most people spend an afternoon fishing, Stark took 13 years to complete the “Fishing America: A Work of Art” exhibit.”He started out thinking it would take him a couple years,” Mueller said.The project consists of 52 photos, one for every state, taken during Stark’s fishing trips across the nation. No two photos have the same subject or species of fish and some of the photos feature a state’s landscape as opposed to a specific fish.”I was driving across the country and I kept passing rivers and thinking ‘I’d like to fish there’ and I thought that’s just not going to happen,” Stark said. “Then I thought, I could fish every state and call it art. An artist has the right to define their art.”Stark uses photos that are alternating inkjet prints and four-color silkscreen “serigraphs” where the artist overlaps layers of color to produce the desired “paint” effect. The result is a surreal, pointillist look with the layers and depth of a photo, but the hazy quality of a dream.”It’s a fancy New York term for silkscreen,” Stark said. “I’ve gotten people who will fight to the death that it’s different, but they can’t tell me what the difference is.”Next to each photo Stark provides a short story about the experience that brought about that particular photographic moment in that state. He said his reasoning for doing the project was two fold.”The first is self indulgence,” he said. “The second is to figure out why fishing is such an important thing in our country. Self indulgence definitely happened and I never found out the answer to the second question.”Mueller said the Joplin community has responded wonderfully to Stark’s works at Spiva. To prepare for the exhibit, Spiva invited area school children to a “Fishing Main Street!” event where the children finger-painted the windows of Main Street businesses between 4th and 7th Streets with ocean scenes. The images will be up for viewing until Oct. 24th.At the opening reception Sept. 17th, locals enjoyed Stark’s works while sampling hors’devours provided by Red Lobster.”The comments I’ve heard are just wonderful,” Mueller said.An unusual group emerged at the reception as fisherwomen came from all over the four state region to support their favorite pastime.”There are a lot of women who are big into fishing,” Mueller said. “During the reception, someone walked up to me and said, ‘God, I just love fish, I don’t know what it is, but I just love fish.'”Stark was careful in his creation of the exhibit to appeal to more people than just fishermen, but points out that most of his work is artistic expression and isn’t really about anyone else. Some of his other projects include photographing Pepsi and Coca Cola machines together, like some western showdown, eating nothing but McDonalds in a 9,500 mile area for a month to show how homogenous our culture has become, and living in an ice fishing shanty for a month as a work of art.”I’m sure that’s not really important to anyone,” Stark said. “But it interests me. I’m different.”The exhibit runs through Oct. 24. For information, call Spiva Center for the Arts at 417-623-0183.