To escape the isolation of lockdown in Paris, multidisciplinary artist Jase King began to create a series of beautiful masks, bursting with colour and texture to expand the few rooms he inhabited into places of fantasy and magic. We speak to him about capturing this historic moment in time, his passion for storytelling and travel. He also discusses his artistic journey and the importance of art in making social change.
How would you introduce yourself and your art for anyone unfamiliar with it?
First and foremost, I am a curious observer, a vivid storyteller and a child of wonder. My art is an exchange of energy and expression, through the amalgamation of experiences I have had in my life. The final piece can cross over several mediums from sculpture, painting, mixed media, photography and fashion technology. I’ve been involved in different areas of the arts since I was a child. Over the years, it is through the knowledge I’ve acquired working in all those genres, that constitutes my style today. My background in the performing arts manifests throughout my work to bring storytelling and cohesion to the forefront.
What drew you to performing arts, to begin with? When did you begin to branch out into other mediums?
I went to a performing arts school primarily because I wanted to live a thousand different lives, be in other people’s shoes and tell great stories. Through my education there, it evolved into a deeper understanding of the creation of a good show. I honed in on all the required elements it takes to be in front of the camera and behind the scenes. With the knowledge of framing, tableaus, directing, intention and emotion, it lent itself seamlessly to being behind the camera lens as a photographer.
My favourite subjects have always been people, be it within a documentary style or in stylised imagery. I shot for some travel magazines and moved to shooting for fashion brands when after some time, I realised I wasn’t being fulfilled artistically being an instrument to someone else’s idea. I wanted to art direct and bring to fruition the visions that I had. Through the years I also created art pieces and participated in small gallery shows in Europe and Asia.
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What inspires your creative process?
It depends on how I am feeling at the exact moment when I am creating. I don’t shy away from how I am feeling. The first day, in-home isolation I felt helpless and trapped and produced Remedy to Social Isolation that shows little resin humans trapped in plastic capsules, falling down the canvas like an arcade game. When I’m angry I usually work with clay and get my hands deep into it. In moments I’m feeling euphoric listening to music, I’ll go in with colours on the canvas. In retrospect, when I look at the masks I created, the earlier ones look more severe and earthbound in likeness to walking creatures. The later ones look more airy, otherworldly and colourful. I think it represents well the ebbs and flows of the state of my mind.
You frequently travel for work and pleasure, where do you think you will visit when it is easier to do so?
I would love for my parents to come to Paris for summer as planned before Covid hit, or I’ll go back to Melbourne for a visit.
As the pandemic has turned so many of our lives upside down, artists like you have been able to process this upheaval through bold, uplifting art and share it with the world. What role do you think artists fulfil in society today?
When we observe art, be it performative, a painting or a sculpture, the great ones are all representative of a precise moment in history. We don’t want to misremember. In a lifetime that is finite, it is in our nature to immortalise. We are not inclined to forget the celebrations, the turmoil, the sadness, the strife and the joy. Artists have always been the story keepers and storytellers of humanity. Inspiring work can derive from the bleakest moments. This is the first in modern times, that the whole world is going through the exact same experience at precisely the same moment. Earth is going through a reset. Without a doubt, some lives have turned upside down, but it is how we choose to get back up that shows what we are made of.
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Each of the masks you made creates a character: from Agent Saboteur, a manifestation of self-doubt, to Puck, a mischievous mythological figure in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. Is creating a story as well as a beautiful art piece important to you?
Unquestionably! I have a dialogue with myself when I create each piece. What is it I am trying to say? What is my intention? Would the messages be strong enough to evoke an emotion within, be it controversial or provocative? Creative forces that come from within have to showcase more than mere ephemeral beauty. External beauty alone is uninteresting. What I’ve come to realise about humans through travelling on roads less ventured and immersing in different cultures from opposite sides of the world, is that the stories behind the facade are what is captivating. From sharing buttermilk yak tea with locals traversing through the villages of Tibet, or spending time in caves with the nomadic Bedouins in Palestine, or jumping with the Maasai tribe in Africa, I’ve come to know that the threads that bind us, are not looks. It is our collective human experience. We are all equal.
Sadly, it is precisely how we look that drives us apart when we should be focusing on what brings us together. In essence, it is paramount for me to create different characters with each unique mask. I want you to look deeper to see the intention and message behind each piece.
After creating your earliest masks with materials already in your home during quarantine, do you think you will try to continue using recycled materials?
In Paris, we were allowed out between the two lockdowns. I went to procure luxurious feathers, imagining that they would be a great addition on the masks, but what struck me instantly was that the strength that differentiates me from others, is my humble beginnings of how I started by using interesting materials not necessarily associated with masks. In all honesty, upcycling, de-constructing to recreate something new, is truly punk rock. It in itself carries an important message and I challenged myself in creating pieces that have recycled components without it being obvious. My masks are more nuanced and there are elements of surprise within their components. I want to invite you to a fantasy world where you can’t see that my materials are living a wondrous second life. Moving ahead, I will continue to challenge myself in incorporating more unconventional materials.
What is your favourite style or use for masks that you have encountered in the world?
Known as 'Bian Lian' in Mandarin, I am deeply fascinated with the ancient and traditional mask changing techniques used in Sichuan opera, whereby with every tilt of the head, the performers on stage change ten masks in twenty seconds.
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For the photoshoot of your masks, you worked with model Oualid Ait Salh, highlighting the importance of masks as a way to protect one another in this time and the need for better representation of disabled creatives in the fashion industry. What other changes would you like to see in fashion?
As an Artistic Director, I cast Oualid and four other amputees across France, when they came to walk in the fashion show of IFA Paris. There was a need to challenge the fashion status quo. In the show, they were strong, proud and carried an air of superpower. I had planned that when the first lockdown was over, I would use my masks as an instrument to further the message of the under-representation of disabled people in fashion. Organically, the next step was to produce the imagery in a photoshoot.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I am a curious observer and it drives the evolution of my craft. Another shift in fashion would be the inclusion of more trans men and trans women being represented in the pages of magazines and on the runways. I am driven to be part of the fashion space where we all use the term models to encompass all types and not have to put an adjective, like amputee or trans, before it.
After a theatre performance at the Paris Welcome Centre for Refugees, you met several refugees who told you about their experiences over several weeks of conversations. Were there messages from their stories that they hoped more people would hear and learn about?
Yes, it began with just lunches together to build trust and rapport. Over time they were more forthcoming to share their tribulations and the reasons they had to leave their homeland. Their circumstances are unfathomable to have to go through. I interviewed six of them on camera. Some of the footage I chose to keep private. One told me that throughout the years no one has ever asked them how they felt. They had much to get off their chest. I created the video that was aired during a festival. This served dual purposes. One was for them, to submit to their case handlers, as it helped show their assimilation to France and contribution to society. The other reason was that it helped illustrate to the public that they are not what the negative media and news were saying about refugees at the time. They are teachers and managers, just like so many of us. I am happy to say that all but one of the people I interviewed have gone on to have jobs and proper papers to reside here.
Following on from the last question, what does it mean to you that your work allows you to explore so many art forms as well as amplifying the stories of so many?
A life well-lived, is through amplifying the voices of those that don’t have one. Through art and fashion, I get to raise awareness about issues that need to be spoken about. Whether the subject matter is political, controversial or provocative, it is an honour that through my work, I am able to take it to a global platform with a wider audience.
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