Jasmin Reif, the mind behind Judas Companion on alter egos, her dark side and why Brexit is the furthest thing from her mind.
In this edition of our Sarabande series, we speak to artist Judas Companion, who flourished under the Wing of the late Alexander McQueen’s charity, which serves as a London-based incubator for emerging creatives. In the interview below, Judas explains the penchant he harbors for mask creation (the work of art kind and the COVID-19 kind), and waxes poetic about the importance of the subconscious in creative work.
How did you get into fashion design?
I’m actually not a fashion designer. I am an artist working with textiles, clothes, masks. The content of my work is transformation and shapeshifting. I create masks and clothes that embody characters that are part of my inside world and emotions. The works are my visualized experiences.
How has your time at Sarabande influenced or had an effect on your work today?
During my time at Sarabande, my work became more focussed on making masks and elaborating on the concepts behind them. I also learned a lot about the business side of being an artist.
The Sarabande studios seem to be ripe for collaboration. What was it like having access to other artists and designers working under the same roof as you?
It was brilliant. I learned so much from my colleagues, It felt like being educated by creatives from various fields. I also found good friends at Sarabande and we continue to work together. During my time there I became very courageous with new things because I knew there would always be someone I could ask for advice.
Since participating in Sarabande have you taken inspiration from the founder himself, Alexander McQueen?
Massively. But I was also fascinated by Alexander McQueen before my time at Sarabande. When I was a child, I ripped pages from my mum’s fashion magazines and pinned them on my wall. They are still in my old room at my parents’ home. He’s always had an influence on me, so when I heard about the residency, I thought “this is exactly what I want to do!”
Masks are a large part of your oeuvre. Can you explain how your venture into crafting wearable face structures started?
It was my fascination with hiding, yet being visible. Expressing my emotions in an extreme way whilst at the same time revealing nothing. I use masks to let the outside world know about my feelings. Masks also enable me to touch upon heavy topics without being too shocking. Jokes and dark humor play a big role in my work.
You’ve mentioned that both your German heritage and Brexit have influenced your work. The UK officially left the EU this year, how do you see this impacting future designs?
Well, as I am writing this, the UK has gone into lockdown because of COVID-19. Brexit is not on my mind. The most important issue now is the wellbeing of every human being, no matter where and under what political system they are. I hope that the current situation will bring humans closer to each other in a compassionate, caring sense.
Where did the name “Judas Companion” come from?
I founded Judas Companion in 2016 when I decided to create a fashion label. I chose the name because the masks I make function as alter egos. The characters I invent are always somehow nasty, spooky, baddies. I was brought up in a catholic household, my grandma played the organ at church. Judas embodies fate, betrayal, the bitter end, whilst companion is the friend within, the demon that becomes your friend when you let him.
Can you expand on the grotesque and its relation to your practice?
I think what people emphasize as grotesque in my work is my reality. For a long time, I’ve asked myself why there is a gap between my expression of inner feelings – which ultimately creates a positive feeling within me as it is a discharge of energy – and the perception of my work as “grotesque”. I think it is simply the case that my inner world is often dark and extreme. I am sensitive to almost everything and often cannot let go of things until I have expressed them through art.
Can you talk about your design process?
The way I create art is, let’s say, a guided explosion. I prepare my work, for example, 10 canvases, or 10 masks. I spend a lot of time doing this, making sketches of what I want to create and think it through, alternate it. But when I am ready to start creating the work, I let all thoughts and plans go and whatever happens, happens. I have learned over time that this is the best way for me to get in contact with my subconscious and realize artworks I was consciously unaware of.
What questions do you ask yourself when you’re designing or creating?
I try to listen to my intuition. I create art to understand myself better and to make sense of the environment I live in, but also to surprise myself. As humans, I think there is so much power in us that is not accessible via logical thinking.
Photos courtesy of Sarabande Foundation.