As a painter, Izk Davies has mainly passed on the gallery scene in favor of making a living with public murals. Now Davies is taking his preference for public art even further by painting realistic animal portraits on plastic wrapped around trees.
A longtime muralist, Davies is always looking for new angles. He thought about using a different material — perhaps cardboard or fabric — and using sculptural techniques to achieve a three-dimensional quality. But after seeing an artist paint on plastic he was inspired to make a trip out to White Rock Lake on Valentine’s Day and paint some harmless graffiti.
He wrapped clear plastic around two trees and painted a human heart. Once he figured out the logistics and aesthetics of painting on plastic in an outdoor space, Davies decided to start a series with this format. After having a conversation with a friend about animal rights, he decided to paint endangered species in different cities.
“It raises awareness about those subjects,” Davies says. “But it also gives a cohesive nature to what I do. Every project is something different. It seems important to go out on my own and do a series with continuity that I care about.”
Davies paints on both sides of the plastic, using the two planes to create the illusion of depth or three-dimensional space. After testing out the process with the human heart, he created a baby elephant behind a fence in Houston, right in front of the zoo. He did a hammerhead shark on one Florida beach and a blue heron on another. He films all of the work and creates time-lapse videos.
The reactions have mostly been positive. He says people take pictures with their phones, ask him why he does it, and generally seem to appreciate the subject matter. In Houston, some were shocked to see a fence painted in front of the baby elephant and some parents struggled to explain it to their kids. In South Beach, Davies was shut down by code enforcement and given a written warning.
Once the series is finished, Davies’ goal is to recreate all of the works for a free outdoor exhibit. “In a perfect world I would like to do an animal in every state,” he says. The murals aren't expensive to make and Davies can complete them in a day. But he often travels to make them, and after completing two in Florida and two in Texas, he has resolved to end the series once he feels satisfied with his spread of animals.
Davies was drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil. By the time he was in his teens, his classmates were getting tattoos of his drawings and he was helping to design album covers. “I never picked up a tattoo gun,” Davies says. “But I would design tattoos and logos.” It started with another student asking him to draw a grizzly bear on his book cover, he says. A few days later, the kid showed up to school with the grizzly bear tattooed on his arm.
He has also been making hip-hop music since he was in high school. (He performs weekly at Three Links with improvisational hip-hop group CoLab.) That led him to develop an interest in graffiti when he was 15. “Back in the ’90s I wasn’t really tuned in to the cultural side of graffiti,” Davies says. He earned his stripes in a few years and gave it up after deciding it wasn't worth the risk of being arrested.
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Davies' illustration and drawing styles are influenced by comic books, anime and science fiction. He learned drawing techniques first and didn’t make his first painting on canvas until shortly after high school. “Behind every painting is a drawing,” Davies says. “When I started painting, I didn’t have to draw as much. Now I don’t draw as much, but it’s something I keep in my skill set.”
Within a few years, he transitioned to murals and made them his focus. “It was risk going to jail or do legal walls, make money and earn a living,” Davies says. He has been supporting himself by making art, primarily murals, for over a decade. He has shown his work at Kettle Art, but otherwise never seriously tried to get into the gallery scene.
“It didn’t excite me,” Davies says. “Everything has a price. Someone could buy your piece and sell it for triple. I want my art to be seen by everyone. You don’t have to walk into a pristine gallery in nice clothes or present yourself in a certain way to see it.” He naturally started focusing on building momentum by working on public art projects for murals on building exteriors, in parks, and other public areas in Dallas and across the country.
Davies was also drawn to the ephemeral nature of public art. Murals can be destroyed or covered at any time and he has no idea what became of any of his works on plastic. “Some murals I want to stand the test of time,” Davies says. “Others are simply experiments to see how people react socially or what other artists see in it. But I always try to appeal to the common person who isn’t going to spend thousands of dollars at a gallery but can have that moment with some sort of recognition or reaction. Art isn’t always meant to be purchased and owned.”