home      about      artists     exhibitions      press      contact      purchase


Marylebone Journal, February 2016 / March 2016, Volume 12/01


"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 still."

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 start painting."

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 Gallery

‘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" explains Gemma.

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 5 words.

Earthy, moody, 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 creating.

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 the 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





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…’

W.B. Yeats                               

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 Gemma Billington’s paintings. 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 Gallery

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.


                                              artist                                            return

E-mail: info@hayhillgallery.com