Gill Button’s high-fashion portraits convey a powerful conviction in the eyes of her subjects. The alluring color combinations and styles found in her portraits reference the world of fashion, while her impasto painting technique is applied like experimental make-up on her characters. Cherry reds sharpen the openness of their gazes; delicate violets highlight the contours of their expressions. The distinct way she applies these colors to her characters shapes and sculpts their faces, giving each one a sense of character and disposition. During her process, she uses expressive brushwork to build up thick strokes of color, forming deep, intense tones that set the mood in her work. Each painting exhibits a striking appeal that is slightly unconventional, bringing to light the authentic beauty found in little imperfections. With a background working in illustration, Button has used different methods of art making including photomontage and digital processes before achieving this individual style that is so uniquely her own. (text written by Christina Nafziger)
Find out more about Gill’s vision for her paintings, thoughts on art criticism, the way she deals with creative blocks and her thoughts on what the art world lacks these days.
AMM: Hi Gill! First of all we would like to know a little about your background and where your creative abilities come from. Were you always an artist or was there a specific moment in your life that led you into a creative life?
GB: Ever since I can remember, I was always drawing – every young child does but the felt tip pens I got through put my sister and cousins seriously in the shade! My mum despaired with the amount of paper
I got through, so I would draw on the backs of drawings and cut them up and collage them into new pieces!
But it was when I was about thirteen or fourteen that I realised that my future was in painting, that without it being the main part of my life there is no way I would ever be happy.
AMM: What was your early work like and how has it evolved as you’ve matured as a person and as an artist?
GB: My very early work was quite academic – my school art teacher was taught by Ruskin Spear, so this traditional observational approach to painting I guess was echoing through… lots of painting each other and ourselves, using traditional materials.
Whilst at art college I spent a lot of time location drawing and I loved to translate these drawings in the print room, experimenting with lino cutting, etching etc.
As I began a career as an illustrator, I started to experiment with digital ways of image making and for a long time
I was scanning in drawings, incorporating photomontage and completing work on system. But a few years ago I felt the need to break from that and get back to real materials again…and it is only now that
I feel I have found my true voice.
AMM: There’s a lot of fashion illustration work on the market these days, how do you differentiate yours from the rest? In other words, what do you feel makes your work unique and truly your own?
GB: I think why my work possibly feels a little different is partly because I never intended to work in this field! I was uploading my paintings on Instagram and the fashion world picked up on it… I hadn’t crafted a fashion illustration approach.
AMM: What do you believe is a key element in creating a good fashion composition?
GB: I have no idea, and to be honest my knowledge of this field is very limited! I paint fashion in the same way I would paint any other portrait or figurative painting; the human element is always the driving force for me.
AMM: Your fashion illustrations are magnetising with the confident and brutal looks of the models, whose features are often highlighted with inky blackness and heavy makeup. Your works seem to be effortless by the nature of your brushstrokes and the way you apply not only the colours but also the ease in which you utilise different paint mediums. Why did you decide to go with this particular style? Would you say your work reveals your personality, your history?
GB: The sensations of applying luscious oil paint to canvas and washing dark, uncontrollable ink onto paper are joyous moments for me… I don’t defy these mediums – I embrace their powers and limitations. Channelling these methods to my chosen subjects seems very natural to me. I’m not sure what my work reveals about me, but I think there is an inevitable degree of transference when I’m painting portraits – after all, they are mainly people I have never met, and so the sensations I am feeling from the face in the photographs perhaps are more mine than theirs – we are all susceptible to imagining or misimagining who other people are!
AMM: Can you describe your aesthetics in just one word or a phrase?
AMM: Could you share with us your thoughts on how you would respond to negative criticism or rejections in your artistic career, if there were any?
GB: I think you just have to remember that art is subjective – it’s impossible for everybody to like everything… you have to trust your own instincts.
AMM: Do you ever experience creative blocks or procrastinating times? If so, what would be your best advice about overcoming them and how do you look for sources of inspiration?
GB: Ha, sometimes it can seem like 99% procrastination!… although I don’t think this is always such a bad thing as it can provide a time to rest your mind or contemplate the next painting. But there definitely is a point where you simply have to quit finding other things to faff around with and force yourself physically to set your work space out, line your materials up and just paint!
With creative blocks, I find that going to an exhibition, or even just walking around looking at nature or the city will always inspire.
AMM: What do you think the art world these days lacks? What would you improve to make it work better?
GB: I think the London art scene in particular is lacking in good spaces to show and view experimental, new artists – I would love to see spaces opening up in accessible, central London locations.
AMM: What exciting projects are you working on right now? Can you share some of the future plans for your artworks?
GB: March 13th saw the launch of two projects I had been working on with De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam: a campaign called “The Art of Overdressing” for the spring summer collections, which is a series of colourful oil paintings that will adorn their window displays etc. Also, in store throughout March/April, De Bijenkorf will be exhibiting a series of ink pieces I created based on Mata Hari during my artist’s residency in Amsterdam back in January – this in turn triggered my current personal project, which is a series of inks inspired by Greta Garbo (who of course played Mata Hari in the 1931 film) – this new series is being shown at the Brussels YIA Art Fair, April.
AMM: If you had the opportunity to go for a coffee with any artist or film character, either past or present, who would you like to meet and why?
GB: I think sometimes you feel an affinity with someone on an inert level, even when you haven’t met them; in a similar way to when you first meet people who go on to become a significant part of your life story – there’s an indescribable, magical sense of connection. This is how I felt about Frida Kahlo when I was reading about her for my art college dissertation… she laid herself so bare that many people feel this about her I know, but I would have loved the opportunity to meet her!
Find out more about Gill on her website: www.buttonfruit.com
Introduction text written by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.