History and Folklore have always been a part of artist Julyan Davis’s life; in fact it was an obscure piece of history that brought him to the USA from Great Britain. In the same tradition as his work with murder ballads, he began a new series in 2016 entitled ‘The Mermaid Storm.’ In it he depicts his interpretation of an African-American myth/folk tale regarding the consequences of kidnapping a mermaid. These paintings have been set in Charleston’s Cypress Gardens. This year he began to explore the myth in a more visceral way by creating an effigy to the mermaids and their ilk. He created it from a black cypress stump he and his son picked out and decorated it with snake skin, seas shells, and milk paint. The effigy itself is as haunting as the paintings. Join us in March to meet the artist and see the work in person.
The information below is from Julyan Davis’s blogpost from 2016. We were honored to be able to donate to help the on-going work towards rebuilding Cypress Gardens.
‘This new series of narrative paintings depict the antebellum slave myth of Low Country mermaids, and how their capture would bring about punitive floods and storms until their release.
In preparation for this work, I learned of the severe flood damage to Cypress Gardens, SC, where I had painted before, and where I intended to set scenes from the story. I contacted the Gardens and asked whether I might have access to the park to paint (it is currently closed to the public) and make the resulting work part of a fundraising project for the restoration. In conjunction with Helena Fox Fine Art 20% of sales of artwork will go towards the rebuilding of Cypress Gardens.’
‘The belief that the captivity of the mermaid resulted in torrential rainfall remained current among African-descended people into the twentieth century. This idea existed outside the environs of Charleston as well.’
“Oh, yes Sir; it was a mermaid; they seen here in this here very shop, in a tub, in the cellar. All of them old people can tell you about her. Yes, Sir; that is the mermaid history” -Araminta Tucker (Charleston)
“Mere-maid got a forked tail just like a shark. From here down (illustrating by pantomime) all blue scale like a cat fish. Pretty people. Pretty a white woman as you ever laid an eye on. (..) They walk- slide long on tail. Pretty. From they waist down to tail blue scale. (…) You got a bathing house on beach. Leave bread there. They sure eat bread…”- Pauline Pyatt, Georgetown
(Excerpts from: ‘African-Atlantic cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry’ by Prof. Ras Michael Brown)