Stars Rising |

7 mins

Stars Rising

Earlier this year, the ‘Being the Artist I Am…’ competition was launched in celebration of the life of Northern Irish trans artist, Jordan Howe, who passed away 10 years ago. Young trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people from all over the country entered, with James Hudson speaking to the winner and two shortlistees about their art and how creativity impacts their lives.

In 2014, a post on announced to the Lady Gaga fan community that one of their own had passed away. Her alias was CandyWarhol (not to be confused with the Irish drag queen Candy Warhol) merging Andy Warhol with trans superstar Candy Darling into a catchy portmanteau conveying an affinity with the surreal and experimental, a transfeminine identity, and an ardent love of pop artistry.

Even within this fan community, CandyWarhol was known as an artist in her own right. Her passion for music production had been so infectious and palpable that her death was felt across the globe by a diverse group of pop art and Artpop lovers.

The heartfelt forum memorial included a number of artworks CandyWarhol had shared, revealing that she had been not just a talented producer but also a skilled traditional artist. A highlighted Magritte-esque piece shows a cutaway behind a man’s face, revealing the sombre girl trapped inside his head. It’s a beautiful surrealist expression of gender dysphoria displaying a range of talent; from a hyper-realistic depiction of soft beard fuzz and gentle shadows in the shell of an ear, to the doll-like eyes and tiny lips of a fantastic girl forbidden from existing.

Four months after this online eulogy was shared, Simon Blanckensee would encounter this same piece of art, attributed with the artist’s real name: Jordan Howe, a young trans woman from Lurgan, Co Armagh.

A selection of Jordan’s visual art was being exhibited posthumously by her friends at a 2014 exhibit in Belfast, and this encounter would become the catalyst for Clarity of the Stars, a Jordan Howe retrospective curated by Sinéad Keogh being held in July 2024 at Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown, not far from Lurgan.

This all brings us to today, as Clarity of the Stars celebrates not only Jordan’s life and her artistic legacy, but also the young people currently making art in our community. Earlier this year, a call for entries went out for an art competition with the theme ‘Being the Artist I Am…’ prompting entrants to consider their own life journey, their sense of pride, identity and self, and most pertinently to the artists featured in this article, what creativity means to them.

12 trans artists under 20 were ultimately selected to have work featured in GCN, with one young artist’s piece to be exhibited alongside Jordan’s work in the Millennium Court Arts Centre. Three young artists—two shortlistees, Julian and Alfie, and the competition winner, Sophia—spoke to GCN about their relationship to art, the inspirations for their work, and the power of selfexpression for trans people today.


Sophia Ella Dennis, whose piece (above) was selected as the winning entry in the ‘Being the Artist I Am…’ competition, will have her work exhibited alongside the Jordan Howe retrospective Clarity of the Stars and receive a full page in the exhibition’s printed catalogue. As a lively 12-year-old (and now acclaimed artist), she was reportedly difficult to get a comment from thanks to the good weather.

“I have been doing art at home since before I started playschool,” she says in a brief interlude between sunny spells.

“I loved the I am Jazz book by Jazz Jennings when I was younger,” Sophia reminisces, although her influences have evolved over the years and led her to more varied interests like the works of Frida Kahlo and Miss Van. Irish folklore is also of interest to Sophia, as made clear by her winning picture of Queen Medb and the Brown Bull of Cooley.

“I think it is very much feminist and empowering, and that it was well executed with a message of women's strength,” Clarity of the Stars curator Sinéad Keogh thinks of Sophia’s winning entry, “and so will work well in tandem with Jordan's work.”

As the youngest of the finalists, Sophia’s work speaks both to the moment she is living in and to the future ahead of her and every other young trans person making art in the generations after Jordan Howe’s too-brief time with us.

When asked if she’d like to meet other trans artists like her, the young Sophia answered decisively in the affirmative, “I would like that.” Hopefully she’ll meet some of her fellow artists in the future, if she’s not too busy playing in the sun.


Just as Jordan Howe’s interest in art spanned from pencil drawing to music production, 15-year-old Alfie Kiernan’s affinity is not limited to the visual, “I am currently in a band with three other of my transgender friends who I met at a support group,” they shared, “I think it's an amazing thing to be able to work with people who have similar experiences.”

Music interweaves with much of Alfie’s interests. Two of their favourite artists include Sammy Copley, an Irish trans man singer-songwriter, and Rebecca Sugar, the non-binary animator and songwriter best known for creating the show Steven Universe. Sugar in particular is an artist whose work has been deeply impactful for Alfie, to the extent that they “own a few of the Steven Universe art books that feature some of Rebecca's concept and development sketches".

Character design—something Steven Universe is best known for—is also of keen interest to Alfie, who thinks that being trans may not affect the type of art that they usually make, but that transness “definitely affects how I develop characters”. Whether big or small, “I tend to give a lot of my characters trans characteristics,” says Alfie, “as I like to see parts of myself in what I create.”

For this competition, Alfie deviated from their love of cartoons and fictional characters towards something more personal. Their featured art (above) is a selfportrait rife with equal parts frustration and courage. The adversarial ‘I will not be silenced’ message is clearly aimed at people denying or denigrating the existence of trans young people like Alfie, who sums it up succinctly: “Trans people are often shamed for speaking out about their experiences and who they are, but I refuse to be silenced.”

But this message also brings an undertone of solidarity running from Alfie’s all-trans band to this work. Alfie does not exist exclusively in opposition to cis people—they exist with and around other queer and trans people. Being so upfront and confident in showcasing their trans identity is also a matter of comforting and enlivening others, as Alfie states, “In general I am very open about my transness, as I want to be a safe person people can feel comfortable being themselves around.”


“Anyone can draw exactly what is in front of them,” says Julian Turner, a 16-year-old trans man, “But it takes true skill to only draw the idea of an object, rather than the object itself.”

It’s easy to see how Julian’s approach to art is not just theoretical, but highly practical. His multifaceted art piece (left) is printed in place, but if it were planted on an axis and spun around, every new angle would reveal a new detail.

Julian’s art isn’t just capturing a specific moment in time or a singular feeling, but a kaleidoscopic ensemble of everything that makes up a person across time, space and emotion. “The top half depicts my past as a girl, surrounded by drawings in my skill level at the time,” he says of the chaotic mix of pink and mauve replete with charming childhood doodles, unicorns and kitty-cats.

In the centre of the page, a black-and-white cacophony illustrates Julian’s self-discovery and the catharsis he’s found in art, allowing Julian to manage his dysphoria and come through the other side into “my present as a boy, as myself ”. Here, in cool blues and teals, he’s surrounded by more detailed, stylised drawings signifying how transition has improved both his life and his art.

Of his progress, Julian says, “I also like making art that past me would be proud of.” The piece is a touching tribute to growing up and reconciling with your younger self, who isn’t someone to cringe at, but a guileless child whose imagination and passion helped Julian become the artist he is today.

When it comes to making art, Julian’s in it for the long haul. “I want to be an animator when I’m older,” he says. The influence of contemporary action-adventure animation is clear in his dynamic art. His favourite artist is storyboard artist Stephanie Ressler: “I love the expressive yet simple way she draws characters.”

Expressiveness is a key element of Julian’s art, as he feels that realistic art is often seen as “the only ‘good’ kind” of art, paralleling how “cisgender is seen as the only ‘good’ gender”. He hopes this expressive streak will make his art more relatable than if he were to stick to realism. “I like to make art that other trans people can see themselves in,” he says, “because I was never able to find any myself.”

The ‘Being the Artist I Am…’ competition was kindly supported by Millennium Court, TENI and GCN. Don’t miss Clarity of the Stars: A Retrospective on the work of Jordan Howe, featuring Sophia Ella Dennis’ winning entry, taking place at Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown in July 2024.

Artists featured: Sophia Ella Dennis, Alfie Kiernan, Julian Turner, Max TJ/SomeSortOfBeing, Kiran, Spirit the Pilgrim, Aether, Amelia Rose Ditkovski, Ash, Shadow Frost, Orpheus, Mr.Dawsyn

1. Max TJ/SomeSortOfBeing
2. Kiran
3. Spirit the Pilgrim
4. Aether
1. Amelia Rose Ditkovski
2. Shadow Frost
3. Ash
4. Orpheus
5. Mr.Dawsyn
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