Exhibit explores the relationship between outer space and op art

Artist Jennifer Merchant finds layered perspectives in acrylic with new Night/Dazed exhibit.

Jennifer Merchant poses for a portrait on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 in her studio in Minneapolis. Merchant is holding a public exhibit from Feb. 17-19 at the Public Functionary.

Chris Dang

Jennifer Merchant poses for a portrait on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 in her studio in Minneapolis. Merchant is holding a public exhibit from Feb. 17-19 at the Public Functionary.

Maddy Folstein

Jewelry designers typically think in the language of metal.

Jennifer Merchant, a local jewelry designer and artist, was forced to think differently.

“I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and got my degree in metalsmithing and jewelry,” Merchant said. “When I graduated in 2005, I moved back to Minneapolis. I was tinkering in my studio, and I didn’t have the tools to work with metal.”

Like any well-tuned creative mind, Merchant began to toy with other concepts, and ended up creating her own technique.

“I was sculpting with acrylic and making small jewelry pieces with that,” Merchant said. “That’s when I decided to layer acrylic with prints. [I] worked with that for five years and developed a line of art jewelry.”

Merchant creates multi-faceted objects that appear clear at first glance. When you look at the pieces from a certain angle, however, the print is displayed.

“I’m really inspired by crystals, crystal structures and faceted gems. You’ll see a lot of those shapes in the images,” Merchant said.

The process of creating layered acrylic structures can be tricky, though.

“I use a special resin to glue special papers between the solid acrylic,” Merchant said. “Then I create a solid slap of materials … and then I’ll shape it into whatever form I need.”

This method of construction allows Merchant to expand into multiple art forms.

“I’ve always wanted to make a chandelier with acrylic layered like crystals,” Merchant said.

With the help of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Merchant recently moved from making smaller jewelry pieces to designing large sculptures.

These larger works will be on display at the Public Functionary this weekend in an exhibit titled Night/Dazed.

The prints Merchant selects for her sculptures often vary from piece to piece, but the Night/Dazed exhibit has a specific focus: “All of the pieces in this show have two themes: images from deep space and then also really graphic op art,” Merchant said.

“Op art has also been a big interest for me. Black and white images are so crisp, and it’s connected to how my work is — it sort of moves or changes without doing anything. With the space or stars images … they’re just cool.”

Merchant does see a connection between the two themes — illusion. This connection ties itself to the nature of her layered acrylic work.

“When you’re looking at stars, you’re seeing them light years [away]. They may not even exist anymore,” Merchant said. “There’s illusion like time, and then the illusion of the op art images. They all fit.”

What: Night/Dazed

When: February 17-19

Where: Public Functionary, 1400 12th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis