Local artist Jay Herzen is a dancer, model, drag performer, makeup artist, and sculptor. In this week’s feature, Herzen shares their experience and ambitions as a non-binary artist in Vancouver, and gives us a look into their various creative talents, embracing gender identity through drag and makeup, and how they find endless inspiration for all their projects.
Hello Jay! Introduce yourself.
My name is Jay Herzen (he/they). I’m a trans non-binary performer, model, certified makeup artist and published LGBTQ+ activist. Growing up as a trans gay kid on post-soviet lands, I was constantly judged by society because of how I looked and dressed. My high sense of justice made me extremely stubborn in terms of not giving up on what I valued the most – being myself. I have a strong and unwavering opinion that you own the right to express yourself in the way you feel and nobody should ever make you feel embarrassed of it.
My main goal has always been inspiring others. Realizing how many people out there still doubt themselves, feel invalid or insecure, makes me want to continue doing what I do in order to inspire others. I firmly believe there is nothing more beautiful than developing the true version of yourself and sharing your uniqueness with the world. This idea motivates and guides me every single day, and inspires me in everything I do. There’s so much we can tell through the different forms of art and sometimes it is the best way to reach people.
“I firmly believe there is nothing more beautiful than developing the true version of yourself and sharing your uniqueness with the world.”Jay Herzen
Tell us about the art(s) that you practice! Introduce it, and what it means to you, and how you started.
I’m very versatile in terms of what I practiced throughout my life. People have been always calling me a jack-of-all-trades saying I can do literally anything.
Dancing: Performing is something I’ve been doing since I can remember. I first came on stage at the age of 4 and instantly knew it was something I’m going to do my whole life. Hip-hop and contemporary were the main styles I started with. Kpop then became a huge part of my life between 2015-2019 and it made me discover lots of my strengths and weaknesses and grow as a dancer. I’ve been in multiple dance teams, done solos, took part in numerous competitions, traveled to perform in other cities and spent lots of time performing in clubs and at festivals. Dancing provided hundreds of opportunities, connected me with thousands of people, and generally, it is something that brings me joy every day.
Drag: Recently I made one of my oldest dreams come true and started doing drag. There weren’t any drag shows in Belarus where I grew up. When I was a teenager I often lied to my mom that I’m having a sleepover at my best friends’ house when in reality I was dressing up with them and coming to a “secret and the only gay club in the city’’ in full drag. My drag character is in fact trans as well as I am. I can’t express how happy I am to embrace my gender identity even being in drag and it only proves that art doesn’t have boundaries.
Modeling: I started modeling as a hobby when I was 12-13yo. People always judged the way I looked, dressed or behaved. I couldn’t freely use public transport or walk on the streets without constant stares or even threats. Instead of hiding, I decided to show the world more of myself. I started creating looks and doing photo shoots asking my friends to help me take pictures. I got noticed by some professional photographers and slowly started building connections with other talented people. I love modeling collabs as it’s just extremely fun and I feel extremely comfortable being in front of cameras.
Makeup: I was a windsurfing instructor in Israel when I suddenly chose to switch disciplines and study makeup. I gained experience working in film and TV in Belarus and Russia then got my diploma in Canada. The funny thing is I never saw myself as a makeup artist. Being a transmasculine teenager I would tell my friends makeup is one thing that I’ll never be good at. I feel like I was almost afraid of allowing myself to like it thinking it will make me more “girly”. I now had a gender-reassignment surgery, starting testosterone soon and yet do my makeup every day. Understanding that makeup doesn’t care what your gender is, but people do, changed my life completely. Moreover, it helped me grow in modeling and start doing drag on a good quality level as makeup is a huge part of it.
Sculpting: One of my hobbies is clay sculpting. I learned the basics at wet clay sculpting classes when I was 5-8 years old. Later in 2020 I discovered polymer clay when I was studying SFX makeup since a portion of it required some sculpting and molding. Polymer clay seemed more convenient to use as you can simply bake sculptures in your oven. I started with cute little pins, made one bigger sculpture then jumped into a project I’ve dreamed of doing for almost a year. There was a 3D model of a very experienced and talented artist Farzad Maleki. One of the things I’m obsessed with is challenging myself so I decided to replicate that 3D model in the form of a sculpture. It took me almost a month to make and I am proud of the result!
What are your inspirations and interests as an artist?
I mostly find inspiration in music or my own emotions. I would say these two are strongly connected as different styles of music can help me trigger the emotions I need. The emotions rule the way I dance, draw, pose or look.
Let us know of any upcoming projects and/or ambitions if you would like.
I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to publicly talk about their plans! I also like surprising people so I prefer to keep most of my big ideas a secret.
Any tips for up and coming local artists?
I’ve been told a thousand times “don’t be afraid and start NOW” and I won’t say that to you. It’s simply not possible to always be ready, stay strong, and not give a crap about people’s opinions. It’s okay to give up on something. It’s okay to be stuck. It’s okay to wait for the right moment.
The only advice I want to give to anyone who’s reading this – never forget who you are. Your uniqueness is YOU. It’s extremely easy to start comparing yourself with others and doubt yourself nowadays as we’re living in a very competitive and judgemental environment.
Thank you Jay Herzen for sharing your plethora of talents with MicroMacro! We look forward see where you take all your skills and unique self expression.