Museum of Brisbane

In the spotlight: Gerwyn Davies

gerwyn man

In the lead up to Costumes in contemporary art  panel discussion we sat down with local artist and costume maker Gerwyn Davies to find out what motivated him to enter into the world of costume design.

Museum of Brisbane (Museum): Can you tell us how long you’ve been working in Brisbane and why you decided to build your career here?

Gerwyn Davies (GD): I completed studying my Honours in Photography at the Queensland College of Art in 2012. I have been living and working/studying in Brisbane since 2003 apart from time spent in London and Berlin.

Museum: Do you think growing up and living in Brisbane has influenced your work in any way? If so, why?

GD: I grew up in Darwin which I think influenced my work in terms of its aesthetic. There was a Campness to the 1990s in Darwin compared to which it is fairly sophisticated now. In addition to that, it kind of had this tropical outpost feeling to it growing up. We used to freeze Cheeseburgers to fly back up for relatives and friends whenever we would go ‘down South’, I’d like to think that isolation enhanced my resourcefulness, I’m better at hoarding materials and making compromises and problem solving with costumes. I have always been drawn to the low brow and Australian vernacular taste, repurposing everyday materials allows me to follow that line closely I think. The makeshift and unrefined materials hark back to a suburban wash of many people’s childhoods across the country, I had always wanted it to be more technicolour and Porpoise Spit than it was in reality though.

Museum: You are known for your photography as well as costume making. What inspired you to enter into the world of costume design?

GD: I have always been interested in making things. Clothes, craft, general mess. After a while of shooting I realised that I wanted to incorporate more of that making process into image making. I worked on a series of hand and machine stitched dioramas of dark and vacant spaces out of paper (butcher shop, gun store, electric chair and public toilet etc) that I then shot after the fact. From that I moved slowly more toward the fairly overstated world of costumed self-portraiture I make work in now.

Museum: You describe the materials you use for your costume designs as recycled and readymade on your website. Is there a process you go through when choosing materials to portray a particular identity in your work?

GD: I like to work fairly automatically. I often have a pre-determined idea of colour and texture and then I will walk around places like dollar stores, recyclable places, Asian supermarkets trawling for things I can use. I don’t set out with particular materials in mind. Some materials lend themselves easily to being repurposed and worn while others will provide me hours of wrestling and grief before being abandoned. For every costumed portrait that makes it to completion there is a good few that have been angrily disposed of.

Museum: Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?

GD: I spent a portion of last year working on a new series called Paradise that will be shown through Spiro Grace Art Rooms later this month. It was shot in a very minute studio space with constructed environments and costumes and is just that bit closer to Camp overload I think, including a self-portrait in a pink scuba knit flamingo outfit. I have just commenced shooting a new body of work at my grandmother’s house in Ipswich last week and judging by her face while I was shooting in her backyard, it will be equally loud.

To hear more from Gerwyn join him along with another contemporary artist, Chantal Fraser at Costumes in contemporary art  panel discussion this Sunday 12 April.