When Jeff Lark sits down to create his unique miniature sculptures, he has no idea what will happen.
“Most of the time, I have only the vaguest notion of where this art is going when I put the first mark down,” said Lark, who spent more than three decades as a dental technician. “I am drawn to real hands-on work that shows the marks of its making.”
Now Lark works with silver and the same porcelain material false teeth are derived from, but instead of teeth, he makes intricate miniature scenes.
He enjoys working with silver because of the dark patina that is incorporated in his final pieces.
“I am sort of bored with sparkly silver jewelry,” Lark said. “It’s got its place, but it doesn’t appeal to me.”
Such pieces don’t tend to tell a story, Lark said.
And while Lark will occasionally design a piece that is purely decorative, he would rather his work say or mean something to those who view it.
“I like to have a little bit of a narrative element to some of the things I do,” he said. “That can be sort of a dark side or story or a collision of ideas that sort of mash up. I don’t necessarily start out for them to be dark.”
But he is drawn to the dark side. One intricate piece created by Lark was inspired by “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, one of the better-known works of Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th century Dutch painter. Lark’s piece specifically draws from the Hell panel of Bosch’s intricate triptych.
“A lot of painters and artists of the time used those depictions of hell to explore that dark side,” Lark said.
It is an unanswered question if such darkness comes from within the artist themselves or from an outside source, Lark said.
“Think of an author writing a crime novel or something like that. They have to go to some pretty dark places to create those living and believable characters.”
But is that part of the artist’s own psyche?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I suppose that in some recess of the brain that is there, and I think that same way. You make the first mark and see where it goes.”
Donna Lark, Jeff Lark’s wife and fellow artist, isn’t disturbed by the dark themes in his works. “It is magical and creative,” she said. “It has a wild side to it with detail that is just exquisite.”
She said the darkness flows in and out of the works. “Whose soul are you seeing?” she said. “Is it a part of your own? Is part of it exploring the depths of the art that you are actually looking at and inspired by?”
She said she admires the techniques required. ”He uses a paintbrush and waxing tool underneath a microscope. All of that gets cast. It is amazing the detail.”
A much needed outlet
Jeff Lark got a history in arts degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, but upon graduating decided to join the family business, serving as a dental tech in the practice of his dentist father and brother.
He became a dental tech and specialized in casting dental crowns and bridges by hand.
“It is all very technical and hands on,” he said. “At least it was in the old days.”
That is where much of Lark’s skill comes from in working small and working precisely, he said.
Lark still works as a tech, but said there is less work now than in decades past due to technological advances.
“There is a whole part of the dental industry which has taken this constellation of hand skills and knowledge that we have developed over decades, not to mention the material science, and more or less thrown it out the window.”
Lark said he is a dying breed, and that his skills are becoming obsolete.
As such, Lark needs an outlet for his hands.
“I have been taking some of those traditional skills and translating them into art objects,” he said.