Gill Button – Traces of You
With a background in illustration, Gill Button has established a reputation for taking as inspiration images of models and figures from the pages of fashion websites and magazines and re-versioning them into intimate portraits. With a deft touch of the paintbrush, she succeeds in investing each one with human emotion, feelings such as vulnerability, assertiveness, defiance, or just plain cool.
Apolonia (above) is typical of Button’s oeuvre, with the model’s looks made human by the lack of symmetry and the imperfections of the make-up and so on. It mirrors the modern phenomenon of how people’s social media image often conflicts with their real persona with all its deficiencies and fallibility.
Yet, the fact that Apolonia is looking away from us, dispensing with the artist’s trademark intense, straight-ahead gaze is a recurring departure from her usual way of doing things “Here, there’s that little bit of removal, they’re a little bit out of touch”, she tells me. “They’re not fully engaged with you and you can’t fully reach them. Maybe they’re thinking their head is somewhere else, they are just not with you.”
Stillness, 2019 and Haze, 2019
To some extent, the images are windows into the artist’s own state of mind. She experienced the sadness of losing a close friend recently. Her portraits seem both personal and imbued with an increased sense of intimacy. Her subjects pictured lying down, sometimes with eyes half-closed as if only half awake, in that limbo of consciousness, “a little bit vacant, a little bit distant”. There’s a kind of collective narrative at play here, and their close-cropping delivers a cinematic quality.
The result is that several works here are more than a metre tall, including the above. It’s a bleak scene as darkness settles on a distant, murky landscape beyond stormy seas in which the enigmatic woman, appearing like a beguiling mythological creature, is poised to go, say, night swimming. It could almost make a poster for an Alfred Hitchcock movie. If there’s a melancholy feel to the subject matter, the making process was a joy.
Button painted it on her studio floor using oils and solvents with what she describes as a lot of tipping, waiting, hoping and praying, never knowing for certain how the picture would turn out once the paint had dried. “I love that element of not being able to be absolutely in control. It’s like teamwork with you and the medium. I’m part of the process, and I do want the medium to have its part to play.”
We Never Went to Brighton is a desperately poignant depiction of herself and the friend she lost whom she’d known since childhood, re-imagined on the town’s seafront. It’s painted in the style of those familiar old black-and-white photos you keep in an album and rarely look at it, but when you do the memories come flooding back. It’s based on a trip that the pair had recently planned to Brighton that was sadly thwarted by the hand of fate.
“I have her in a cat mask because I didn’t want her to be completely present. I wanted her to be a little bit out of reach.”
There’s a certain fragility in the manner of Gill Button’s style and the looks that she creates so elegantly in her portraits. There’s a reminder here too that fragility extends to life itself. The last painting she has made is full of brightness and she has added irises to a landscape, symbols of hope.
* All images are courtesy of Helaine Blumenfeld
Written by Bob Chaundy
JM Art Management