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Freshman Friendship Leads to Professional Collaboration for SoVA Alumni

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Image by Katie Murken ('02 B.F.A. Art)

When Justin Myer Staller (’02 B.A. Art) and Katie Murken (’02 B.F.A. Art) met during the College of Arts and Architecture new student orientation in 1998, they began a friendship that has evolved into both a personal and professional relationship. Staller is currently hosting an exhibition of Murken’s work at Space 1026 in Philadelphia, a collective gallery and studio where he is a member. Titled Fight Well Against the Future, the exhibition of collage-based drawings and sculptural assemblages will be on display through September 28.

“Katie’s work for this show is really wonderful, and it’s special for me to be working with her again in this capacity,” says Staller. “The thing that blows me away about Katie’s work in general is how fantastic it is—fantastic being full of fantasy. She has really created another world, a future rooted enough in our present to make it feel familiar, but with distorted elements that create an amazing other-world quality.”

The exhibition features a new series of works that imagine an encounter between past and present attitudes towards the future, nature and civilization. The works on paper are constructed through a manual cut-and-paste technique and combine digital prints culled from images of Mesoamerican architectural ruins, gilded ink drawings of parked cars and hand-rendered surfaces evoking landscapes of blacktop, night sky, swimming pools and ethereal forests. The sculptural pieces are three-dimensional collages that extend this narrative into space by placing the viewer in an abstracted relationship with the landscapes depicted.

Murken developed the works in the exhibition over several years, and she says she valued Staller’s input as she began to hone her ideas for the show. “A very loose collection of drawings evolved into a more tightly knit series that uses qualities of space and surface to evoke another place and time. I’m excited to display this new work at Space 1026 because of the intimate feeling of the gallery. It highlights the images’ ability to transport you to a more open mental space.”

According to Murken, her experience in the Penn State School of Visual Arts’ B.F.A. program led to the interdisciplinary way of working that she employs today. “I benefited from exposure to other disciplines and ways of thinking through the broad range of electives Penn State students are required to take.”

While at Penn State, Staller says he was most influenced by the grad students he met in the Printmaking area. “The biggest impact that the Printmaking department had on me was getting to see the work and work ethic of the graduate students. They taught me how to be a printmaker by allowing me to witness their studio practice.”

Today Staller has his own printing company, Chronic Town Press, which has produced a limited-edition print of Murken’s work that is available for purchase for the duration of the exhibition. He says he started Chronic Town Press in order to introduce printmakers and working artists to contemporary “non-toxic” printmaking techniques and create new editions that showcase both the artist’s and the medium’s strengths. Murken’s print, “Man in the Autumn Light,” is intaglio-type with screen print in an edition of 25. “Katie and I have created a unique back-and-forth over the months, mixing critiques about the work for her show at Space 1026 with discussions about experimentations in the printing process.” The print is available for $150 at and

Murken, trained as a printmaker and book artist, creates site-specific installations that position her hand-made objects, books and drawings in relationship to diverse environments and audiences. She has won a number of awards, including the Grand Prize for a solo exhibition in 2013 at William Paterson University, New Jersey, and an Alumni Travel Grant from the Center for Emerging Visual Artists for a residency at the Babayan Culture House in Cappadocia, Turkey. She has shown her work regionally and nationally, including exhibitions at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey; The Soap Factory, Minneapolis; Contemporary Arts Center, Las Vegas; School of Fine Arts Gallery at Indiana University, Bloomington; The Print Center in Philadelphia; Pittsburgh Center for the Arts; and 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Her work is included in the special collections of William Paterson University, Temple University Library in Philadelphia, and the J. Edgar Louise S. Monroe Library in New Orleans.

In addition to Staller’s work with Space 1026 and Chronic Town Press, he is a working artist and teaches at Arcadia University and Moore College of Art.

For more information on Space 1026, visit The gallery is open by appointment only, so please contact or to make an appointment.