Alun Davies is a one-man art director wonder. His costumes, props and sets have graced Lady Gaga gigs, Peaches got wheeled onstage on his custom-made contraption, and now he’s on the cusp of opening his first solo exhibition, Dalston Supernovae. We talk to the Welshman about how having a mechanic dad influenced his work.
How are you feeling about Dalston Supernovae?
I’ve had photographic exhibitions and been part of exhibitions that other photographers that I’ve worked with have exhibited. But this is sort of my debut show, I guess.
How did you come up with the concept for it?
I wanted something that would be appealing across the masses, and also something that worked as a sort of retrospective of some of the projects I’ve been working on. For me, this was really about the characters that I create when I make costumes, and the world that we build when I’m making set designs. That all feeds into itself. It exists in lots of different magazines, but this is an opportunity to create something all in one space.
Describe your aesthetic.
The worlds that I create are otherworldly. It’s like a hyper-reality, taking elements and imbuing them with colour. I use a lot of recycled objects and fragmented elements that I bring together and collage. It changes quite a lot depending on the materials that I’m using.
Do you have any unusual inspirations or influences?
When I was growing up in Wales I would work with my dad. He was a mechanic, so there would always be these vans with different broken pieces, and I’d watch him put things back together again and creating something new and fixed. I was always interested in this idea of things being deconstructed and reconstructed, and that’s something which comes into all the different elements that I pull together.
So how did a boy from Wales get interested in fashion and set design?
It wasn’t like there were Vogue magazines hanging around. I didn’t have any particularly fashionable relatives, though I suppose my grandma was the most fashionable person in my family. I’ve always been drawing and painting, and that was something that I was interested in.
What’s the strangest found object you’ve used in your work?
I’ve made a lead mask which features in this story. It’s lead and mercury, so if you touch it too much you get blood poisoning. When you pick it up it moulds to the body so amazingly, but it’s so toxic. We had to put a coating on the inside of it so that it doesn’t actually touch your skin.
You’ve designed sets and props for musicians like Lady Gaga and Peaches. Who was the best?
Someone like Peaches is incredible because you have such a creative collaboration with them. She’d just broken her leg and had to do Lovebox festival. She said: “Is there anything you can do that can make going on stage really interesting, rather than going on stage in this really boring NHS wheelchair?” We actually sprayed the whole wheelchair pink turned it into a throne with an arched back with some wire, and then covered it in pink hair.
So if you had an unlimited budget and no restrictions, what would be your dream place to design for?
What I would really love to do would be to create a whole stage show. I’ve done operas with Peaches and I’ve done concerts, but it would be incredible to actually do a whole theatrical stage show where I would be creative director from start to finish. In forty years’ time it would be incredible to art direct an Olympic ceremony on that scale.
Dalston Supernovae runs from 25 July to 9 September at Dalston Superstore, 117 Kingsland High Street, E8 2PB.
Words: Zing Tsjeng