Landscape photographer, mask maker, University teacher and myth maker Jym Davis came onto my radar about a year ago. His mask spoke directly to my primitive soul, the sliver of the soul that is the creature between the masculine and the feminine. They felt like the representations of all the tall tales and myths, totems and spirits that abound. In union with his eye for a harmonious backdrop, his work hums a deep, gutteral knowing of visages from ancients past. Whether the masks reflect the animals of the land he is in residency at or elevated beings of another dimension, they speak to all my senses and inspire shoots. He has been actively participating in a National Parks artist residency which came as no surprise and is amongst the most enticing residency I've heard of to date! I am a big fan of his ability to shapeshifter myth into matter. Below is his interview.
What is your brand/name:
Jym Davis. I make and sell hand-made masks and document them with studio and landscape photography.
What is your heritage:
French on my Mother's side. Welsh on my Father’s side.
What are 3 reference points of inspiration for your work: (philosophy/culture)
The most original mask designs in my sketchjournal come from simply studying nature. I am always looking through books of animal skulls or strange insects and I like to visit science museums. I just sculpted a series of antelope horns that I’m very excited about. I am working backwards and designing the masks around them. I found inspiration in the subtleties of the twisting horns and I’m going to see where it leads me.
For artist influences, I would say the main photographer that inspired me to work with masks was Ralph Eugene Meatyard. He was an optician who lived in Kentucky. During the 1950’s and 60’s he made these very unusual photographs using dime store rubber masks and working with his family as models. I love that he was living this very normal suburban life but creating these experimental photographs on the side. As for broader cultural influence, I really love the Wilder Mann project by photographer Charles Fréger. That led me to investigate some of the more eccentric European mask and costumefestivals that he documented in his book. Although my masks don’t reference any single culture, I find inspiration from festivals and rituals around the globe.
What are 3 skills you've learned in representing yourself as an artist:
The first thing I learned: it is o.k. to allow commerce to play a role in what you create (as long as you do not compromise your ideals). My hand-made masks were first created to use in my photography and video projects. I got tired of using mass produced store-bought masks and decided to make something unique.Second thing I learned: be flexible with your business. It did not even occur to me to sell the masks. Then I started to get offers on the masks and that motivated me to work on my craft. The first masks I created were like delicate wasp’s nests and I needed to make them more durable. That leads me to a third point: accept challenges. When I received commissions from performers I was asked to create masks that could withstand the wear and tear of a stage show. None of these things would have been open to me if I had stubbornly refused to deviate from my original concepts.
What are 3 skills you believe are a necessity to be an independent artist/designer?
Do not be afraid to say no to an offer. Don’t accept a commission for less than it is worth, and make sure you are happy with the compensation. I would also say make yourself available to buyers and respond to their requests quickly. If it is a big project I check in regularly so that it is understood that progress is being made. It is also especially important for artists to fight against the ‘head in the sky’ stereotype. Let people know you are very serious about your work and it isn’t just a hobby. And always get paid before you hand off any artwork or craft.
What moved you to make with your hands:
Great question. I spent years making Video Art, and I still teach Digital Art classes at my University. I enjoy those things but, in the end, I find spending a lot of time staring at a screen very unrewarding. Once I began making masks and working with physical objects it became almost like meditation. The first masks were really poorly made and, as I said, were basically just visual material for my photography. But I enjoyed the process so much that it became a fine art pursuit very quickly. I’ve been making masks for about three years, and the process is more satisfying than any art I’ve ever made.
If you could travel anywhere today, where would you travel and why:
I have a fascination with otherworldly landscapes. Alien looking places really compliment the masks in my photography ideas. I am also completely in love with our National Parks in the United States. Last summer I spent a month at Petrified Forest National Park and every morning I woke up looking at the glowing red painted desert of Arizona. It was like being on Mars. This year I will again be a National Park Artist-In-Residence at two similarly unusual places: Lassen Volcanic National Park in California and Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho. Both landscapes were sculpted by volcanic eruptions. The astronauts trained at Craters of the Moon because it looks like a lunar surface. I would also love to travel around Iceland and photograph my masks there. It looks like a dream location for me.
3 Favorite songs at the moment:
We have lost so many great musicians that I will name three that I really miss and I play constantly when I make art. Also I will list my favorite song by them.
David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes
Warren Zevon – Desperadoes Under The Eaves
Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) – Dusty
What advice would you offer your fellow female makers? What business advice?
Not sure I have much advice for a fellow female maker that I wouldn’t also give a male. Don’t be afraid to defy people’s expectations. If someone expects you to create a certain type of product based on your gender then go in the opposite direction.
What advice would your 65 year old self to you today?
Probably the same advice I would give my 25 year old self. Go out and enjoy the beautiful natural world. Explore the wilderness and also fight to protect it. Keep making the art that feels right to you and makes you happy. Don’t bother with commercial jobs where you are working towards someone else’s vision. It will zap your creative energy and leave you disillusioned.
What change would you most like to see in the world?
That is such a huge question that I’m going to focus on a small change that would benefit everyone: learn to make things with your hands. It is the greatest therapy that I know. It forces you to be patient, calm, and thoughtful. Making art comes naturally to kids, yet it is something many adults dismiss as silly child’s play. I lead mask-making workshops with the elementary school kids on my street because I want them to learn the joy of craftsmanship. I want all children to carry that natural curiosity into their adult lives and not feel like it is something they should “grow out of”.
Any additional thoughts on the importance of artisanal/handmade goods in a fast pace Western World?
It recently occurred to me that a lot of people have almost no contact with unique objects. By that I mean almost everything they see or own is mass produced or in some way created from a blueprint. Therefore, it is more important than ever to create unique art objects that people can cherish. When someone buys a mask from me I always emphasize that I do not make the same piece twice. The mask or painting they own will never be replicated.
I've really enjoyed the portal into Jym's world and the representations of his masks. Stay tuned for the collaboration between Jym and Ghost Dancer.
IG: @ jymdavis