Gerwyn Davies travelled to southern Arizona hunting its “almost cartoonish landscapes” to produce work for Mirage, his latest Brisbane exhibition at Jan Murphy Gallery in Fortitude Valley.

It’s a series of photographic self-portraits in which he can’t be recognised – witty, seductive images that expose their own fiction of an impossible figure in an exotic landscape.

The landscapes are the archetypal images familiar from film and television – cactus, desert cliffs, rocky landscapes and adobe buildings all disrupted by the quirky character in glitzy costumes within each image. Davies says the figure “anchors the space with some kind of small performance” but its presence, purpose and meaning remain elusive.

It’s not the first time Davies has travelled to create a series. Exotic locations attract him. Previous backdrops include Brisbane’s Calile Hotel for series Pleasure and Japan for Alien.

The contradictions of life in the US and specifically Arizona are central to Mirage. While Davies performs each character, his identity is masked by the scale and invention of his costumes, which are recreated as independent artworks for the first time in this exhibition.

“Elaborate material surfaces resist a clear view of what lies beneath,” he says.

Saguaro poses a figure wearing a lurid green carapace to echo the shapes and curves of the slow-growing saguaro cactus so closely associated with southern Arizona. The shadow of the figure is a sharp outline over the red dirt, holding a beer bottle, a pointer perhaps to the extreme heat of this place.

In Oasis, a figure is concealed by a garish orange costume which has planes at every angle and holds a satellite dish to the sky with one hand and a tote bag bearing a green alien face with the slogan “I BELIEVE” in the other. (UFO sightings are regularly reported in Arizona).

In Adobe the figure is seated, wearing a shimmering short white dress with head completely covered by a mass of blonde curls. A can sprays into the atmosphere with a traditional adobe building (photographed in the small town of Tombstone) in pastel green behind.

While the photographs are slick and highly finished, the costumes are reinterpreted as banners or signs, hand sewn into new iterations that are equally glitzy but tactile. Rattlesnake is coiled over a red circle with stars glittering in the night sky and small green cacti popping out of yellow sand. A black fringe emphasises the theatrical nature of its subject.

Tombstone features a retro red pick-up truck, with a UFO descending from the night sky, aiming its light at the hills behind. The handmade qualities of these textiles offer a companion to the images.

Including the costumes in this exhibition is a new process for Davies.

“You get really comfortable working in a certain way and in certain media,” he says. “I’m bringing that tactility back because the images I’m making are deliberately polished, shiny and manicured. I’ve loved adding something covered in threads and rhinestones to the wall.”

The five textiles are grouped as landscapes and banner/signs and are responding, as do the photographs, to the exotic nature of place. The-mirage like allure of the photographs and textiles, the masking of the figure, the enigmatic narratives and their teasing wit is offset with the exotic unknown.

“A mirage invites your attention but is difficult to fix in focus, it calls you forward while remaining always out of reach,” Davies says.

The power of these new works lies in both their imaginative reach and their ability to keep you wondering.

Gerwyn Davies: Mirage, Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane, until June 1.

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