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Courtesy @janine_ker_hair

Janine Ker is the hairstylist creating 3D neon looks inspired by nature


TextTish Weinstock

Janine Ker talks shaved heads, identity and beauty in the age of Instagram

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Janine Ker was eight years old was she discovered the expressive possibilities and subversive thrills that come with a unique hair cut. She’d gotten a pixie cut, for which she was mercilessly mocked by her contemporaries. But she didn't care. Yes, she looked different, but she loved it. Over two decades on and she’s still following her instincts and challenging the status quo when it comes to hair. Having honed her craft at cosmetology school (before that she’d just practice on herself and those around her), the southern California native has built up a cult following on Instagram, thanks to her bold geometric shapes and expressive use of colour. Taking inspiration from 80s fashion and music, and well as kaleidoscopic forms found in nature, Janine's’ sculptural designs (usually moulded onto a shaved head) are refreshing, unexpected and irresistibly grammable. Here we speak to the hairstylist about beauty in the age of Instagram and the relationship between hair and identity.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
Janine Ker: I am a 38-year-old artist who grew up in La Puente, Southern California.  I would say that my background has shaped my work a lot since I am inspired most by my experiences.  I have to interact with something in order for it to become personal. In my case, music and alternative fashion are heavily embedded in my work. I also love working with a cultural blend, which was my experience growing up as a 5th generation Mexican American.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Janine Ker: I would say it was around the age of eight, when I got my first pixie haircut.  It was something I knew I wanted and chose for myself. The reaction I got because I decided to follow my instincts was abrasive to many of the kids around me.  I got teased a lot, but it didn't stop me from continuing to pursue different haircuts growing up. My hair has always been something that I've used to gauge and express myself... even when it looks like I've done nothing to it.  Even that is intentional.

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Janine Ker: Many people may laugh, but Paul Rubens was and still is a heavy influencer to me, specifically PeeWee's Playhouse, which was a show I watched from the time I was very young and I have seen it resurface subliminally for me time and time again.  There's a quirkiness and curiosity that I deeply understand and live by. Yet, there is also the meticulous nature of all of it. I would say it resonated with a part of me that developed my style and ability to embrace and express myself, both stylistically and beauty wise.    

Why are you a hair stylist? What is it about dressing the hair that appeals to you?
Janine Ker: I'm a hairstylist, first and foremost, because I love working with my hands, and this is another way for me to do that. I've always been fascinated with hair's strong connection to identity and I love the idea that I get to "top off" my client's style, and be a part of how they present themselves to the world. Especially unique individuals. The most appealing part about hairdressing is manipulating the material... conquering the material, and getting it to submit. That is my favourite part. Some hair is harder to master than others.  

How did you actually get into it? Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?
Janine Ker: I got into doing hair for my senior project in high school. We had to spend the year researching something and create a long presentation for it. I chose to do mine on haircutting because I thought it would be easy. I read a book and taught myself some basic cuts that I practised and documented on friends. I noticed it came very easy to me. After graduating, because I could not afford cosmetology school, I went straight into the workforce and spent the next 10 years cutting my own hair and the hair of friends and family. At 30, I decided to go to Cosmetology school. It was really crazy to learn that there were things I was doing on my own all those years that were actual techniques with names and purposes. I would say, hair has always been very instinctual to me.  The hair colour part took a lot more time for me to understand.

Tell us a bit about your creative process. From initial idea to final image.
Janine Ker: Usually, it begins with a vision, which creates an urge to see it manifest. Once I decide to pursue it, my brain starts to break down and create the methodical steps it will take to translate that vision into hair.  Once I've got that figured out, I find a subject. I walk out the steps, and if all goes well, it comes out as I predicted. This is not always the case. That is both stressful and deeply satisfying energy. When we are done, I like to make sure that look is completed with hair and make-up, which I like to be minimal and realistic (I often go through my own closets for clothing and accessories). The photography is my favourite part. It's how I freeze my work permanently because, with hair, it immediately becomes impermanent. Editing the photos is my second favourite part because then I can use my photo to communicate a deeper language to the viewer.  

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Janine Ker:
"Beauty" has always been a complicated thing to me. I can appreciate a good supermodel. But I tend to find beauty in a lot of unconventionally beautiful things... smeared make-up, an untucked shirt, birthmarks, crooked teeth... greasy hair. To me, it's all about orchestrating it right. And that takes more work and thought than just being "hot". I'm always on the chase for more substance and grit.

What are the projects that you’re most proud of?
Janine Ker: In 2013, I was featured in the Ovation Channel's The Art Of series, in which they did an episode on hair. This past year, a body of my work was featured in a spread and cover for Infringe Magazine. Both projects put emphasis on the art of what I do with hair.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
Janine Ker: That my career does not carry the key to my happiness.  

Your work features of a lot of colour and amazing designs. What inspires the looks?
Janine Ker: I take a lot of my inspiration from experience and I am very nostalgic.  So I love creating odes to visual things that make me happy. It might be my favourite blouse, a grandma's chair, or a texture I find interesting. I love being able to prove that they can be translated into hair.

Why do you mainly work with shaved heads? What do you think a shaved head conveys about the person wearing the look?
Janine Ker: For this particular avenue of hair art (I also make sculptures out of hair), I choose to work with shaved heads because of the detail I can render and achieve within the length. Anything longer will become blurry, compromising the detail and pop. I do love the idea of shaved heads because you are on the brink of disowning it all together while pushing it beyond its boundaries.  

What does colour signify in your work? How do you use it to convey an emotion or feeling?
Janine Ker: Colour plays a simple role in my work. Some designs are fun and poppy, some are more monochromatic and melancholy. Some are more playful, some are more serious. It's weird, I don't think it is always intentional... the colour seems to reveal itself once the work is begun.  

From animals to flowers, you’re inspired by the natural world a lot. What is the significance of this in your work?
Janine Ker: I think in some ways, nature allows me to put a visual anchor on to something outrageous.  It makes it seem almost natural to do something so unnatural.

You also work with geometric shapes, where does this interest come from?
Janine Ker: Simple answer: I love the 80s. I missed the decade (or rather I was too young to "grow up" in it) but I always gravitated towards it. I still do. I spent a lot of time dissecting and immersing myself in the fashion and especially, music. Geometric shapes also work really well with hair. They are simple and create clean work, which is important to me.

Looking back what would you have done differently?
Janine Ker: Honestly, nothing. It's all played a part in where I am today... and I'm pretty happy.

How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Janine Ker: I think we are an industry that still has a lot to learn about the thing we are based on: beauty. Beauty tends to be a very tight, rigid notion and it is refreshing to see all different types of people, with all different types of features, embracing and presenting themselves in the past few years. I would not say the beauty industry is responsible for that, rather it has begun to hop on board of a movement made by a lot of strong beautiful rebels.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Janine Ker: Well, I think Instagram has heavily expanded our minds about what it means to be beautiful. Unconventional beauty influencers are responsible for that! Some of my favourites include @tessholliday (body positivity/plus size supermodel) and @sophiahadjipanteli (body positivity/model).  

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Janine Ker: Building a name for yourself in the industry has changed a lot in the past 10 years. We've gone from walking around and handing out business cards, to tagging photos, as a means to create a name for ourselves. Social media is here to stay and you have to know how to play that game. Also, you must fall in love with creating your work. That will be what sustains you as you push through the quiet times. The rest will fall into place.

What is the future of beauty?
Janine Ker: Thankfully, at this point, I think that is to be determined. And I am excited for that!

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Janine Ker: I find @anythingforselenaaas very intriguing if you haven't already spotlighted her!

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