Jessica Keys
Jessica Keys (l) with Chris Cheney

The winner of the Stencil Art Prize talks with us about art, inspiration, and giving back to her community.

Jessica Keys, aka 23rd Key, is the recent winner of the Stencil Art Prize.

Her piece, Duality, captured the judges with its precision and 3D elements. By using less than 9 layers or fewer, Jess has the amazing ability to create photo-realistic portraits, using free-hand embellishments and breaking the traditional elements of stencil art.

When asked why Chris Cheney was the center for her piece, Jess tells us, “I chose Chris because he was an inspiration to me when I was growing up.

Chris Cheney is one of the most incredible guitarists in the world. I wanted to show who we are on stage versus who we are in private. It’s also part of the inspiration I have for my upcoming project which focuses on reflecting the ego. I also got to spend some time with Chris Cheney, taking photos for my project. It’s pretty cool to get to hang out with one of your idols.”

A lot of the focus in stencil art is on how many layers an artist might use. Although she only works with 9 layers or fewer on any given piece, she says her average is 6 layers. “It would make sense that an extremely realistic portrait would have a hundred layers,” Jess says, “however, you don’t need a hundred layers to make a good piece of artwork.”

Jess crafts each layer with such detail, confines her use of color, and uses her extraordinary free-hand skills to create a masterpiece in just those six layers.

In addition to her raw talent, Jess has an incredible support system.

She met her partner at the first art gallery that ever showcased her work, and she was managing an art management company at the time.

“It’s great to have someone that is passionate about what you do. She is incredibly supportive and with her knowledge in art, it’s almost like having a partner for your work. There is someone that you can collaborate with on your artwork.”

The awards and career advances are coming in quickly for 23rd Key, as just shortly after winning the Stencil Art Prize she was asked to participate in Project Five’s charity auction. Amongst three other artists, Jess had the opportunity to create an outdoor exhibit that would be raising money for ArtsReady, a program that educates young creatives.

“It was so exciting to be asked to be a part of Project Five. It’s great to be able to give back to the community with my art. I’ve seen so many artists that are inspirations to me participate in this Project. So to be put on the same level as some of my favorite artists is exciting. ”

Jess has an impressive background in printmaking and graphic design, and channels these talents through her artwork. When asked about the future of her work, she remains open-minded, but grounded in her talent, saying, “I’ve been spending a lot of time with graffiti artists/learning from them, writing words, etc. But I will always have my base in stencil art. I am open to learning new things and incorporating new ideas into my art. I love the art of stenciling. The layers and the process are cathartic to me.”

The beauty and gentle precision of 23rd Key’s exhibition is enough to render anyone speechless. Don’t miss the intimate opportunity to view her work on December 5th, at the Juddy Roller Studios in Melbourne. For more information, visit her website:


23rd Key Unlocks New Ground in Artistic World
Chris Cheney with the winning artwork