Jader Challenges the Notion of Beauty and More

The shapeshifting artist spends hours upon hours on handmade prosthetics and intricate special effects makeup to transform himself or his subjects into beings who communicate universal truths.


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Photos courtesy Jader

When one thinks about fashion, “grotesque” or “disturbing” doesn’t typically leap to mind. But if fashion instead revealed hidden desires, it might look a lot like the creations from the mind of shapeshifting artist Jader.

Jader has strutted down the stage of Oakland’s What the FILF Naomi Campbell-style, and worked extensively with the experimental gallery B4BeL4B. He deftly dances between costume design, photography, performance art, film, and just-what-the-hell-am-I-looking-at makeup and plunges his audience into dark, startling, surreal visuals.

Often spending more than five hours on handmade prosthetics and intricate special effects makeup, Jader transforms his subjects “into humanoid mutants or alien beings in order to communicate universal truths or critique without being hindered by the specificity of race, age, gender identity, etc., that often accompanies human subjects.”

Jader grew up in “one of the most generic cities in California — Irvine” where he always felt like The Other. “It was the land of cookie-cutter houses and Christmas-card culture. It didn’t matter what your family actually was; it mattered if you could put that façade up.”

A lack of money coupled with feeling at odds with almost everyone around him prompted Jader to flee Irvine. “I had to go to a good school. I knew that was my ticket out of my hometown. That’s how I got to Los Angeles, and I never ever looked back.”

He studied art history at UCLA, worked at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and started going out with some influential artists in the LA Club Kid scene, a highly performative, eccentric, and often queer aesthetic that centered on fantasy and lavish costumes all wrapped up in raging nightlife.

“I started doing baby looks — wigs and a cute outfit — nothing serious. But at the same time, I was getting more invested in fashion and editorial. I thought to myself, I could be an art director. I have the vision, but not the practical skills.”

Then came his first shoot, a seminal moment that began as a nightmare, but became the foundational dream: A third of the way through the day, the hired photographer was drunk and passed out. Jader finished the shoot.

“I realized I had to teach myself how to do it all myself. I started taking photography classes at UCLA extension, and every Friday that I got paid, I would buy a different makeup product from CVS,” Jader laughed. “This was the very beginning. That was 10 years ago.”

Burned out by the art scene of Los Angeles, Jader move to the Bay Area, landing in the hot heart of SOMA Sixth Street.

“I grew enamored by the counterculture, the heavy, dirty, gross nature of that part of the city. I was so inspired by that. In exploring that darkness, I started making the photographs that helped me develop my aesthetic now.”

Jader said he uses the aesthetic of the ’90s when cartoons drove culture — shows like Ren and Stimpy and XMEN riddled with veiled queer storylines and rich ideas of what it meant to be an outsider — with the ugly, important truth of being a human.

“My work denies the iconography of humanity. It’s about the condition of feeling. There are such a range of emotions that people don’t want to acknowledge in themselves — unabashed sexual desire, grief, the darkness of all the things under the surface. I want to excavate the realness.”

But these revelations aren’t for everyone, and Jader is more than fine with that. “Part of the reason I’ve become a performer and a personality is out of necessity. I’m willing to be gross and look ugly and do shit that not everybody is comfortable doing. My work leans into something that feels and looks uncomfortable.”

As 2020 looms, Jader is building an arsenal of work and heaping projects onto his plate alongside his art collective, Toxic Waste Face. The collective is taking the scathing satirical work it presented in 2018 at Art Basel Miami Beach to the Norwegian contemporary art institution Kunsthall Stavanger on a European tour. The project takes aim at corporate culture, pharmaceuticals, and what it means to be beautiful: a monster. It will also host a workshop with a youth group, taking the approach of a choose-your-own adventure and creating a short film centered on challenging conventions of beauty.

When I asked Jader if he believes art can serve as real vehicle for social change, he told me they’re inseparable. “Pop culture and the audience that it’s reaching can be incredibly transformative if manipulated in the right way. It’s almost my fetish,” Jader said. “You can drive culture by subverting culture. … There is a lot of power in art to enact social change, especially if you can balance the realms of pop, personal, and political.”

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