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Meet Jay Krakower

Artist Jay Krakower
By Naeme El-Zein 

Jay Krakower is one to watch. Arguably, she’s always stood out from the pack but she’s giving you more reasons than you bargained for. The young artist and model transforms her pain into power, channelling her struggles with body image into a growing body of work. Here, Jay and I discuss her progress and process as both art and artist.  

Name: Jay Rose Krakower 

Goes by: Jay

Age: turning 19

Born: Toronto

Lives & works: Montreal 


Naeme El-Zein:  What sign are you? 

Jay Krakower:  I am a Sagittarius, but I only know this because I have friends that follow everything astrological.  

NE: Are you not Sag-ee?

JK: I don’t even know what that means. 

NE: Are you secretive?

JK: No. Everyone knows everything about me.  I don’t hide anything. 

NE: Do you consider yourself an artist?

JK: Yes, I don’t think I ever wasn’t. But I started taking lessons with artist Ramon Serrano when I was fourteen and everything changed. My parents are art collectors and my mom is an art consultant. I’ve always kind of been in the art world. My mom knew him through a gallery. I was supposed to be taking a one-hour lesson on Tuesdays and he would stay for four hours. 

NE: What did he teach you?

We started with drawing charcoal, then drawing in pencil, pastels, watercolour and then oil. He taught me how to draw, taught me how to fill a page while drawing, how to deal with proportions, how to look at what I am seeing and translate it into a drawing. Ramon would bring in sculptures and have me draw them as he lit them. Everything he did was very meticulous. He is very special. He taught me everything. 



NE: How did you develop your own style?

JK: Well I knew what I liked, found interesting and I knew what I have gone through my entire life. I knew I wanted to be able to translate that. Now I have the tools to put what is here {gestures toward her head} and put it on the page without struggling - without any disconnect. 

NE:  And what does that mean specifically in terms of what you went through? 

JK: I struggled with being fat and being skinny.  All the ideas of that, what other people thought about it versus what I thought about it.  I went from drawing sculptures and recreating paintings and then I would leave those lessons to use them on my own and in my own way. 

NE: What were you drawing outside of your lessons?

JK: Fat women. I thought it was interesting because I grew up hearing fat is bad, fat is ugly and fat is never good enough. Fat is everything that you don’t want to be. At one point, I got really thin, and everyone wanted to be friends with me. Everyone wanted to be near me, to hear my opinions because they thought I was attractive. Then I gained weight and all of that went away.  It started to be, ‘Oh you are so inspirational” or “Get out of my way!” You are not supposed to be seen or you are always in the way. It was interesting to see how differently people treated me and perceived me because I was still the same person. Either hating me because I was fat or wanting to be my friend because I was thin.  

NE: How did you not internalize that and carry it with you?

JK:  Most people that I have been friends with that are fat have had the same experience as me. I know it was not me that changed. It was my body. And that was what changed everyone’s opinion.  

NE:  How have you dealt with these experiences in order to find peace within yourself? 

JK:  I did a shoot with Nasty Gal and they posted me. Their feed is mostly very thin girls. There were like 700 comments under the photo and maybe four were positive. That really destroyed me at the time. I was crying in a pizza shop. But from that point on, I realized this is not my problem.  There is nothing wrong with me other than maybe I can be loud! This is not something to do with me if this many people are teaming up to tear down someone they don’t know at all. 

NE:  During the four years you were being taught by Ramon Serrano, were you putting personal art work out?  

JK:  At the end of grade 12, Ramon brought in a painting by an artist, I forget the name, but it was two fat ladies having some type of discourse and I knew from that point on, this is what I want to do. I recently did a series of seventeen tiny 4 X 4 drawings of people’s perceptions of my relationship with my skinny boyfriend. I get such weird messages on Instagram like does your boyfriend feed you? I did a bunch of tiny drawings - us having sex or him eating me out or people perceiving that we are just friends because he couldn’t possibly love me. There is an intimacy because of how small it is but not necessarily in terms of what is going on. I play with scale in my work going huge, so that you can’t ignore it or have a choice in seeing it or very small so you have to get up super close and you can’t get that image out of your head.


NE:  How did your modelling come about?

JK:  I started working with a photographer who asked me if I wanted to be part of the Women’s Day Nasty Gal shoot.  I also did an interview with it and that is when people started reaching out. 

NE:  Were you shy initially?

JK:  No, I was always who I was and there was never any hiding it. This whole modelling thing it is pretty weird. I am not a curvy model. I am not skinny with big hips. I am fat in every sense of the word. I get emails like we are looking to “diversify” or “you’re beautiful come work with us”. There are these two approaches which are interesting to compare. It is terrible that it is looked at as a fad or a trend; fat people are not going to disappear after this year. 

NE: Where do you see yourself on the path of self-acceptance? Are you‘there’?

JK: No. I have days I hate myself. I don’t think anyone gets there fully. You can’t love yourself every day. 

NE: How do you explore ideas of self-acceptance and body image in your work?

JK: The past year I have been painting myself over and over and over again. Which is super interesting. I think that actually helped in my self-acceptance. I started painting myself fatter than I am and painting myself with these huge cheeks. Like you know how Pinocchio’s nose grows every time he lies? For me, it was like the cheeks were symbolic of whenever I was feeling like shit about the way I looked or when I would edit my pictures…all the lies of beauty standards would make the cheeks grow.


NE: What made you start painting yourself?

JK: I had gained a bunch of weight and thought I can’t possibly be “good enough” at this point and then I started painting myself and stopped looking at myself as this fat person who had ruined their life and instead it was like, “look at these beautiful colours and how my stomach folds in this way or how my arms droop in this way.” It stopped being about how I looked to everyone else and started being about this beauty I found through painting myself.  

NE: Why do you create?

JK: I can’t not. I don’t have a choice and I can’t do anything else.  All I do is work. I love it. 

NE: Do you see a correlation between modelling and painting?

JK: Of course. Because I spend so much time painting myself, I understand my angles. It is not that I am obsessed with myself. It is that I want to learn everything I can about myself.  

NE:  Do you get nervous when you put out work to the public? 

JK:  My mom was like, ‘you never let us take photos of you. Now I never have clothes on! But my parents have stopped seeing it as, “Oh, she’s just being a hoe” and started seeing it as positive. I have a lot of young girls following me.  I never saw fat people in magazines. Now that I show myself as a fat person, I think it helps people more than just myself. But it also helps me.  


NE:  Do you have something in particular you hope people take away from your work? 

JK: Of course. I want people to stop seeing fat as negative. And see fat bodies not as grotesque or overly romanticized. I want people to keep talking about it. Keeping hating it or keeping loving it. It is interesting watching people see big bodies with big nipples and seeing them accept that and say, “That’s ok. That’s a body.” But you need to have people converse. You need to have the conversation. Otherwise, nothing happens. 


Follow Jay on Instagram @jaykrakower 

Text by @naemeelzein

Photos by @_mel_g_

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