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Gerwyn Davies is a photo artist and costume maker with a penchant for transformation. Using his own body as the starting point for his surreal images, the Sydney based creative builds onto and around himself using a variety of readymade materials, creating exaggerated proportions and textures to distort the human form beyond recognition. Once finished, what is left is a new and unexpected oddball character, cartoonish in its excess. 

Here we take a look at one such series, which sees Davies move away from his preferred materials (he admits to a soft spot for cheap, plastic mass-produced materials – the more artificial and luridly coloured the better) to manipulate the more challenging flowy material of hair. “Organic material is something I don’t usually tend to work with – although this is synthetic hair so not technically organic – I usually lean towards rigid materials” Davies explains. “So this hair series was really stripped back for me.”

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You’ve previously spoken of your interest in creating characters through costume that simultaneously conceal, transform and abstract the body – in this case through hair. What do these characters’ hairy exteriors say about them? Hair, in its excess, becomes grotesque and undesirable. I liked how that contrasted with these characters, who are heavily hirsute but completely at peace with that. They’re very relaxed in their hairiness. In my practice I use a lot of different materials. Hair is just another extension, another material for me to experiment with covering the exterior, covering my own self to create a transformed, new character.

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You’ve spoken of your preference for readymade, everyday materials to construct your characters. Is this purely because of the ease in acquiring them, or do you have other reasons for using them? What’s interesting about readymade materials is that they have a life of their own already – they have a suggested or required use that they’re built for and I like that. It allows me to collaborate with the materials and distort them, it almost becomes a conversation with the materials as opposed to me having complete control over the process. The other thing is that they generally have these lurid colours that are inviting, I like the idea that it draws attention to the surface. I often look closely at the textures: the tactile surfaces that these readymade materials have. It invites the viewer to look closer, to examine this new skin that I’ve built over the top of the body, but at the same time it’s concealing and covering so it pulls away from the viewer. It’s this kind of double act: disappearance and appearance at the same time.

 

The imagery you create with your characters is very playful and surreal. Is this one of your core objectives as an artist? I have a lot of fun making the work so that playful element is really important, as well as that sense of campness and irony. It’s a really artificial, exaggerated and performative process, the work is tongue-in-cheek and hopefully that comes across to the viewer. Although it’s playful, I think there is also a sinister underside that comes with these images. What appears on the surface to be showy and over-the-top has this disturbing, unsettling tension that sits just below. That’s another of my core objectives – to invite the viewer in but then nothing is quite ‘right’, it’s strange and leaves the viewer with a sense of unease.

In terms of the surreal element, I’m really interested in the role of photography in myth-making. It’s this really constructed device and we use it to fictionalise, even through self-imaging. We’re rampantly taking photos of ourselves and sharing them these days and I’m really interested in playing with the boundaries of what that might look like.

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What are some of the most recurring sources of inspiration for you as an artist? It’s really varied, I’m constantly consuming contemporary art, sculpture and of course – couture fashion. Although obviously my costume work much more ‘bargain basement’ and doesn’t contain that level of craftsmanship. I’m interested in how those fashion houses, at their very elite level, work with the body and the form to mutate it. I also have an obsession with any kind of gaudy, camp history. Also a lot of cinema, especially where the energy is really turned up past 10… so really excessive 80s films with Goldie Hawn in them essentially!

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Credits

Images Gerwyn Davies
Interview Emma de Clercq

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