Beauty Through Decay

Before meeting Jenffer A. Jay, I went and viewed her show, Beauty Through Decay, at the Free Space Gallery at Northern Front Studio. The walls are filled with a kaleidoscopic array of printed works that Jay created from cast-off bottle caps and liners, and other bits of urban detritus. Jay transforms the objects into images reminiscent of gems, crystals and Persian rugs. Their names are wonderful too – Bugs at Summer Time at 1:00 A.M., Gem of 202, The Meetings of the Gods of the North, and Send Me Away.

Beauty Through Decay is Jay’s first exhibit, although she has been making art all her life. Yukoners may not know her name. As she notes in her bio, Jay has spent a lot of time being put into boxes that she never felt like she belonged in. People seem to make many assumptions about her like she is able-bodied, or assuming she is a man, or assuming she doesn’t understand what they are saying due to the way that she speaks. Jay has faced a lot of challenges within her family and within her community about her not being recognized for her talents and her skills.

In her bio, Jay goes on to explain that, as a disabled trans woman, Jay has used her art to process the many challenges she has faced. One of her first means of self-expression is a cartoon character called Miss Jay, who she has continued to draw for 38 years. After visiting Jay’s show, I met with her and her support worker, Meriya Gmeiner-McPherson, at Inclusion Yukon. We began with discussing Jay’s collecting activities during which she gathers rusted bits of metal and other objects she’ll scan to use in her artmaking.

To assist with this work, Jay has fashioned an ingenious cane with strong magnets on the bottom for attracting metal, reflectors to improve her visibility, and a hook at the top made from a bicycle gear changer. The hook carries her bags of cans. Bottle caps and liners are the most prevalent materials in her prints, but scraps of paper also make an appearance.
“Any decaying thing will work,” Jay says. “Old stamps people forget and throw away in the garbage, I take and turn into art or use in my films.” And so I learn that Jay is also a filmmaker. One of her films, called Plastics Copy, features a montage of images and patterns, many of which are from a salvaged book of vintage tile patterns from 1937. A second film is abstract, with slow pacing and a single piano for a soundtrack. She likens the melancholy piece to “travelling through your memories.”

Jay is also interested in animation. For example, she found a how-to karate book at the free store and manipulated the photographs so that the karate master is dancing. She has also animated her character, Miss Jay.
To make her art, Jay has learned to be incredibly resourceful. She has used PowerPoint to make animations by speeding up the slides. She knows a lot about free programs and CNET. And of course, she recycles materials and will re-use the same image or pattern in different contexts.

Jay also credits others for helping her. Gmeiner-McPherson has mentored her in building her art practice as a business. Her sister, who makes beads which she sells on Facebook, inspired Jay to do the same. Arctic Star Printers used their equipment to maximize the quality of the images in Beauty Through Decay. All of these supporters are helping Jay realize her lifelong dream of selling her art.

Jay’s practice reminds me of several artists whose work interests me, in that she is essentially self-taught, she never stops exploring new techniques and she always has new ideas. Jay finds her inspiration in reusing what others throw away. Her practice is grounded in an urban environment and the refuse on the street. But she also acknowledges that Mother Nature plays a role in the processes that produce the decay that Jay is so interested in making beautiful.
“Some people think decay is ugly,” Jay says. “If you turn it into art, people will like it.”

Jenffer A. Jay poses with some of her work

Beauty Through Decay can be viewed at the Free Space Gallery through October. Jenffer Jay’s work is available for purchase through her website:

Beast of the Boreal

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