February 2016 / March 2016, Volume 12/01
PICTURE FROM AN EXHIBITION
"You use a glass mirror to see your face;
you use works of art to see your soul — this quote from
George Bernard Shaw is one of two touchstones for me. When I
am feeling stuck or lost, I look to quotations," says artist
Gemma Billington, ahead of her exhibition at Hay Hill
Gallery. "Another is from American expressionist Philip
Guston, who says when you are in your studio painting, there
are lots of people in there with you... one by one, if you
are really painting, they walk out. And if you are really
painting, you walk out. That's how I paint."
Working between England and her mountainside studio in
Ireland, Gemma’s work is inspired by the sea and
mountainscapes of her home county, Kerry. "I've been seduced
by a particular place called Skellig, where the Skellig
rocks are in the Atlantic," she continues. "I spend days
gazing, watching how everything's changing. Nothing stands
While the artist draws on the Irish landscape for
inspiration, she never takes photos or sketches before she
begins working. "I am definitely not a realist. When I get
back to my studio, I meditate, l am in a particular neutral
place when I start painting — I throw that picture and all
of my expectations out the door. When I look at a blank
canvas it frightens me, but I just choose the colours and
Gemma is unconventional in her methods, using only
natural materials to mark the canvas. "I paint with my hands
and with rags of moth-eaten cashmere. I don't like the marks
that brushes make — you don't see brush marks in nature, and
I try to be as natural as possible. I might put a few lines
in at the end with the tip of my finger, or use a tiny brush
or a matchstick, but only when I am adding the bird"—the
signature mark the artist adds to every painting.
"I believe in the oneness of nature, and that when I am
looking at a scene that I am part of it. When I paint I
always engage with one bird. No matter how stormy it is, how
mystical, how powerful, there is always a bird."
Having trained in visual studies at Winchester School of
Art, Gemma went on to study life drawing at the Royal
Academy of Art. "Sometimes I wonder if I am giving enough
back — I'm not helping people in anyway. But I love the idea
of creating a space that people can go into. Everybody sees
the painting differently. The viewer can get lost in it."
29th February—2nd April
Hay Hill Gallery
35 Baker Street, W1U 8EN
Beyond the Beyond exhibition by Gemma Billington at the Hay Hill
‘Beyond the Beyond’ is the new solo show by Gemma
Billington at the Hay Hill Gallery in London. Her paintings of dark
and light eschew traditional painting techniques - she uses her bare
hands to apply raw pigment to canvas, and the result is, to say the
least, fascinating – I was certainly mesmerised when I learned she
does not uses brushes at all. Gemma draws inspiration from the
timelessness of nature and its ever changing patterns; her paintings
feel like Baroque versions of Turner, where dramatic chiaroscuro
meets abstract sublimity. They are imposing, yet serene. A raw
intensity is conveyed through bold marks of textured colours and
abstract imagery, which is both contemplative and meditative. "When
I am in my studio I am untethered by position or possibility"
Artist Gemma Billington and Carole Middleton, opening
of "Beyond the Beyond"
at the Hay Hill Gallery, London. Photo credit: Colin Ince
The show itself is a pleasure to visit. The Hay Hill
Gallery, with its glass walls, is light in both luminosity and feel.
And Gemma’s work is surrounded by nothing less than bronzes by Rodin
and Degas. This juxtaposition of figurative pieces by such masters
with the contemporary abstracts by Gemma is simply beautiful. In the
interview bellow, Gemma gives us further insights into her practice
and her current exhibition.
Define your work in
ethereal, soulful, mysterious.
Why do you prefer
using bare hands over brushes to paint?
I am fascinated by
everything being One, and by how nature moves constantly, even
during the stillness of the sunrise. I have always had the urge to
try and stand still with only the breath, my breath and the breath
of nature (the wind), moving through me - to listen, watch, and feel
the mystery around me. I choose not to have any kind of instrument
between me and this fascination. I have always avoided using
conventional mark making - brushes get between me and what I am
I do a long
meditation before I start a session of painting to I ensure that I
am in a neutral state of mind. There will be just me, the canvas,
the paints, and some rags of wool and cotton. I pick up the paint,
squeeze it out into the palm of my hand, and then I start a dance,
which, at first, is off beat. Step by step, I begin to a find a
rhythm; the length and speed of the stroke across the canvas take
shape - sometimes they glide, sometimes they stumble over each
other. But, with commitment and time, I eventually reach harmony -
fewer and fewer stumbles and false steps happen. And eventually the
painting will stand alone.
When you paint, what
do you aim to achieve?
To capture the
mystery of timelessness and of eternity.
How does the title
of your show ‘Beyond
the Beyond’ conjure
the ideas behind your paintings?
'Beyond the beyond'
in my paintings is expressed by the notion of unity, of no
separation: the sea, the sky, the trees, all one, no duality. This
concept is 'Beyond
I find it
interesting that this expression is written in many ancient writings
of different cultures. I hear it frequently in my native Kerry. It
is actually often used to describe a situation or person, for
example ‘Oh, She is beyond the beyond’, meaning the woman in
question is beyond understanding, beyond reasoning, almost to the
point where others might give up on her. For me ‘beyond the beyond’
keeps the mystery alive, and mystery is something, which will never
cease to fascinate me.
What do you want
visitors to gain from - or walk away with - from your current show?
In my opinion, when
you look into art, you look to see your SOUL. My aim is to create an
adventurous journey into the unknown... Into 'beyond the beyond'...
I hope visitors will be able to take the time to enjoy my paintings
and this journey.
'Beyond the Beyond' at
the Hay Hill Gallery.
From 29th February to the 2nd April
Article by Ilua Hauck da Silva, World Arts
SIMON SAYS… GEMMA BILLINGTON ‘BEYOND THE BEYOND’
29 FEBRUARY – 2
APRIL HAY HILL GALLERY
FEBRUARY 9, 2016
Gemma Billington ‘Beyond the Beyond’
‘Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light…’
This poignant and exquisitely visual
metaphor, the opening lines from W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘He wishes for the
Cloths of Heaven’, very much mirrors the emotional and spiritual
intensity that is imbued in
Indeed Yeats’ words conjure up a series of magical shifting images
redolent of Gemma’s latest paintings, which previewed on Tuesday 1
March at the Hay
Hill Gallery, 35 Baker
Street, London W1U 8EN.
Gemma’s paintings of dark and light eschew
traditional painting techniques, with the artist using her bare
hands to apply raw pigment to canvas. “When I am in my studio I am
untethered by position or possibility” Gemma explains, her paint
stained palms bearing witness to her colour saturated landscapes.
A force of nature to be reckoned with, Gemma like the
great masters before her, draws inspiration from the timelessness of
nature and its ever-changing patterns. A raw intensity is conveyed
through bold marks of textured colours and abstract imagery, which
is both contemplative and meditative, a reflection perhaps of the
artist’s passion and dedication to the traditional practice of
Kundalini yoga and gong.
The Irish Independent commented, “Gemma’s paintings
are tingling with an almost electric energy, as if she has caught
the very essence of the storm energy and transmitted or transmuted
it through paint.”
Born in Killorglin, nestled between the Ring of Kerry
and the Atlantic Way, Gemma spent her youth in Kerry before moving
to England in her early twenties. She studied Sculpture at Newbury
College of Art and did a degree in Visual Studies at Winchester
School of Art where she specialised in painting. Now Gemma divides
her time between painting studios in Kerry and Berkshire, and
regularly attends life drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts in the
famous Life Room created by Sir Joshua Reynolds, a unique space that
helps nourish her artistic practice.
Gemma Billington and Carole Middleton at the Hay Hill
Gemma exhibits her work in Ireland and
London and her current exhibition is open daily from 29 February
until 2 April at the Hay
Hill Gallery, 35 Baker
Street, London W1U 8EN.