Jessica Kease, otherwise known as 23rd Key, cuts doily-like layers of stencils to create intricate, eye-catching pieces of art.

Defined as a vector style series of digitally manipulated ‘layers’ that are printed, cut and painted, stencil art is a predominantly male-dominated art scene. However, since her first solo show in 2011, “Skills to Pay the Bills”, 23rd Key has skilfully extended the medium by presenting ground-breaking 3D works and free hand elements, as well as hyper-realistic scenes and portraits.

“I think stencil art is always changing, its what I love about the medium,” says Jess.

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Traffic Signal Box. Image:

With the possibility of turning almost any subject into an artwork, Jess says she simply thinks of things she wants to see, or clever and funny things she wants to make. “I like to think it has a certain charm to it that appeals to people.”

Her artworks have a quirky element to them, in which simple, humanised images come to life. The Face Off series, for example, came from an exploration of multiple layered paper works – a piece which coincidentally merged into a comical representation of the human condition. A piece that also represented a turning point in her art making career and the development of her unique style.

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Face Off. Image:

This unique style is characterised by the use of only nine layers or less per artwork. Despite being a medium that is critiqued by things like the number of layers used, or how photo realistic is is, 23rd Key believes that none of that really matters.

Her artwork, 50 Layer Piece of Shit (But I Did It In 6) is a personal commentary of how the medium is rated and measured. It represents the frustration she feels when important aspects of the art are overlooked by qualitative ideas.

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50 Pieces of Shit (But I Did it in 6). Image:

She believes that everyone has a relevant opinion and that there is no ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ way to make stencil art. Under Jess’s tutelage in a Work-Shop, you would learn the process of digital manipulation, how to cut and paint a stencil, and how to enjoy what you make at the end of the day.

It’s this unbridled passion and enjoyment that sets 23rd Key apart from her peers. Experimenting and exploring her medium has presented new projects and goals for the 26 year old Melbourne based artist.

It’s no wonder she has won the Australian Stencil Art Prize, the only competition of its scale recognising and commending stencil artists, in both 2011 and 2014.

She does what she loves, and she does it well.

“I am genuinely happy with everything I’m creating, and I have a lot of opportunities. It’s something I’m constantly proud of myself for achieving.”

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Australian Natives. Image:

23rd Key has ongoing residencies at Signed and Numbered and Artshole Studio in Melbourne. Keep an eye out for another ‘Introduction to Stencil Art’ Work-Shop with 23rd Key in Fitzroy in 2016.

Check out her works at


By Emily Barlow