Thursday 24 May 2018

What Lies Beneath: Out There A Little Longer by Gemma Billington

Out There A Little Longer by Gemma Billington, Oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Out There A Little Longer by Gemma Billington
Out There A Little Longer by Gemma Billington

Niall MacMonagle

Rossbeigh Strand, County Kerry, on a summer's morning: "Not a single living being on the beach, not a single living being in the sea, just me," says artist and skinny-dipper Gemma Billington.

"I lay on my back, floating, looked up and there above me was this enormous seagull, totally alone: Total freedom, total harmony. Something happened at that moment, I was as free as that bird."

For Billington, the Atlantic has "so much healing and calming energy, even in a storm; you feel no shame, no dignity, you just breathe in its passion, mystery, love, tragedy, song".

This vibrant painting surges with that energy and freedom. The Atlantic's power is captured on canvas and "one single bird, flying separately from the flock, is carving its own journey".

The mountainous sea swell, the white, green and blues, the sweeping downstrokes, that strange-looking sun create their own harmony. "My DNA is embedded in the wind, the ocean and the raw energy nourishes me completely." As a child, Billington had "no idea about art but I imagined the doll I so wanted, the tricycle, the pony. I would climb the highest tree I could find and look out over the world as I thought."

Once her children were at school "for longer days", she studied art at Winchester School of Art and Southampton University, gravitated towards watercolours, life drawing, photography, sculpture but after a Cill Rialaig residency in her native Kerry, swooshing sea and skyscapes became her focus.

Does she fear for our increasingly polluted seas? "Planet Earth is very powerful. She knows when to detox and heal and breathe that breath of fire. Two years ago, a storm tore Rossbeigh beach apart, captured the sand dunes, placed them elsewhere; they are not gone, just somewhere else."

Billington has two studios - in Berkshire and by Caragh Lake - and works in total silence. Yoga and meditation are part of her day. Does this painting's title, Out There A Little Longer, suggest a longing for, a reaching after something ungraspable? "But in that longing," says Billington, "there is an eternal excitement. I know that I will never feel that I have arrived but with these new paintings, I was in full flow." And she certainly goes with that flow.

Atlantic Soul, new work by Gemma Billington, is at Origin Gallery from November 9-December 5.

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