Ancient folklore, festivals and customs inspire the masks, outfits and sculptures of Georgia artist Jym Davis.
Artist: Grew up in Radford, VA. At Carson-Newman University in Tennessee, Davis studied drawing and painting. In 2003, he earned an MFA in video art from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. He later taught part time at UNC Greensboro and Wake Forest.
Davis, now an art professor at Reinhardt University in Waleska, GA, was promoted last January to Endowed Chair of the Art Department at Reinhardt.
His name: The artist was born James and called Jim. In college, he changed the spelling of his name to Jym for fun.
Studio: Davis has an art studio at the university. But he creates most of his artwork at his home in North Georgia, where he has lived and worked since 2006.
In the beginning: With a background in creating music videos and still photography, Davis began mask and costume making as props for those projects. He enjoyed the hands-on process so much that he just kept creating.
Eventually the work started selling, and galleries were more interested in the masks and outfits than the photo and video work.
However, photography is still a big part of his production process. Davis likes to model and photograph the masks and outfits he created as a five-time National Park Artist in Residence in places such as Big Cypress Preserve in Florida and Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.
Art & materials: Wearable and sculptural masks and outfits, using acrylic paint, India ink, Bristol board paper, ribbon and hand-painted cloth, flowers and plants.
What’s popular: Masks ($100 to about $300).
Other favorites: Photographic prints and small, self-published books of his work ($100 or less and mostly sold in-person and in galleries).
Why masks: “I like the way that masks hide – but also reveal – people’s personalities,” Davis said. “Cultures all over the world, throughout history, have discovered that when a person wears a mask, it transforms them.”
Favorite mask: A bat with huge ears that he made at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. It was based on an endangered bat called the Townsend Long-Eared bat that lives in the park. He sold it a couple of years ago in a Nashville art show.
Process: His mask-making process consists of a somewhat eccentric self-taught methodology, including:
- Builds up a mask skeleton with heavy papers, such as Bristol board, chipboard and cardboard.
- Assembles different animal heads using five or six basic forms and cuts them into pieces before construction. These forms create short snouts, long and curved faces.
- Makes modifications so each mask is unique, such as ears, horns, spikes.
- Wraps the entire piece in paper mache to hide ugly seams and the marks left by the glue gun.
- Coats the mask in white gesso, which seals it and creates a vibrant base coat. Gesso, though not an essential step, does make the top colors brighter and bolder.
- Uses acrylic paint and a watered-down black wash on top of that. The black wash brings out textures and creates shadows.
- Finally, adds ornamentation, like bells and cloth to the mask.
Favorite tools: Glue gun, exacto knives. Also Canon DSLR and iPhone for photos.
- British Isles folk traditions that he tries to participate in, either virtually or in-person. Last month, Davis participated in the Jack-In-The-Green May Day parade in Hastings, England and wore his best “Green Man” outfit (photo below right).
- Books that connect him to these European traditions: “Wildermann” by French photographer Charles Fréger; “England on Fire” by Stephen Ellcock; and “Folk Renaissance” by Ben Edge.
- Using ancient folk customs as a creative jumping off point, similar to the way J.R.R. Tolkien pulled from Norse Mythology to build his own worlds.
Special or unusual commissions: Many for films, music videos and festivals, like Mardi-Gras. But two commissions standout:
- Created masks for a yo-yo performer at Coney Island, New York.
- Created a pair of masks for a wedding.
Awards: Has won the Faculty Art Award three times at Reinhardt.
Recent project: A series of “Green Man” masks and outfits made and modeled in southern England. The series was inspired by old traditions, eccentric folk customs and strange European festivals,
What’s new: Several exhibitions, including:
- Summer Invitational, Swan Coach House Gallery in Atlanta, GA. Through July 27.
- Biennial of Textile Art – BIEN 2023 in Škofja Loka, Slovenia. Through Aug. 10.
- Doomsday & Night III, Goodyear Arts in Charlotte, NC. Through July 27.
Where to buy: falseface.org
- Instagram: @jymdavis and @_false_face