Jessica Kease (aka 23rd Key) is the only female stencil artist to have achieved the unlikely. For many artists, winning the Stencil Art Prize once is amazing, but one was not enough for Kease. 23rd Key won the Stencil Art Prize in 2011 and in 2014 and the critical acclaim she has received is a testament to the work ethic and effort she imbues in her artworks.

23rd Key, describe to us the feeling of having won the Stencil Art Prize.

I think there are some things you can’t really describe. I held the idea of winning the prize really high and to this day it’s one of my proudest achievements. Whenever your work is acknowledged in a way that the Stencil Art Prize does, it means a lot to an artist, especially for one who was at the point in their artistic career that I was. The closest feeling I can think of is, it’s kind of like the end of the movie ‘Teen Wolf’ where Michael J Fox has to sink a shot from the free-throw line in order to win his team the game. I feel like winning the prize is a bit like that moment; time seems to stop and you get to go home a champion.

What was your winning artwork about?

My first stencil art prize-winning piece was a portrait of a friend whom I played roller derby with. I was and still am extremely passionate about the sport. The work I created, titled ‘Game Face’, was about the persona we take on as athletes to get into a mental zone that helps us achieve great things.

My second winning piece, titled ‘Duality’ was a movement-based portrait of ‘The Living End’ front man Chris Cheney. I’ve been a fan of the band since I was a teenager and initially approached Chris to paint his portrait for the Archibald prize (of which it wasn’t successfully accepted). I wanted to capture Chris in the best possible way. There’s sometimes a real 2D, still life quality to a portrait doesn’t always do the person justice. I’ve seen ‘The Living End’ perform a number of times over the years and this way of portraying Chris seemed to make the most sense. I’d never tried to capture movement with stencils before but I’m actually really happy with the effect and it was a lot of fun to work on.

What have you learned from participating in this art prize?

I’ve learned a lot about myself and the work I create now. I think it’s important to have goals and things that help you want to strive to be better at what you do. The Stencil Art Prize has been one of those things for me over the years. I’m grateful we have a prize like it in the world, let alone so close to my home.

What would you say to those entering this year’s Stencil Art Prize?

That’s a hard one. I guess just to enjoy it and not over think it. I entered the Stencil Art prize in 2009 when it first started. It was one of the first exhibitions I had any of my work in. It meant a lot to me just to have made the finalist list and to meet other artists. So I guess just to give it a shot and enter at all is the best advice.

What have you been up to since winning the Stencil Art Prize?

So many things. I’m currently on holiday though so it’s nice that the pace has slowed down a bit. I have a lot on my plate as soon as I get home though, so enjoying the time off while I can. It’s definitely been an eye opener traveling all over Europe and seeing the work of artists I’ve never had the chance to see in the flesh before. Its inspired me to do a lot of new things when I get back home.

What do you hope the future holds for you?

I’m not sure, my main goal is to be happy and enjoy what I do. So far I have that and I’m really lucky. Anything from here on is a plus. I’m going back to full time study when I get home. I’ll be studying Architecture; something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m excited for how this will change my stencils and what it will bring to the table where my art is concerned.

What has been the most challenging thing you have done since winning the Stencil Art Prize?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the work I’m creating. With everything I’ll have on my plate soon I’ll be making smarter decisions with my time and what I spend time cutting. I’m going to pursue the movement I started with my last Stencil Art Prize winning work, as I think it’s probably the truest form of work I’ve created as 23rd Key and because it’s more fun for me than the usual photo-realistic style I’ve gotten used to working on. I’m excited to explore movement within stencil artworks more and really perfect it.

Visit 23rd Key’s website here.



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