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Gill Button

An artist that focuses on painting portraits by beautifully capturing the emotions and personalities behind each individual’s face. She has traveled across the globe, showcasing at exhibitions and generating a very lengthy and impressive resume within the fashion world. It’s painter Gill Button, exclusively speaking with us at TheCornerZine about her artistic journey, hopes and dreams! Read along to learn more!

Out of the three painting techniques you use, watercolour, oil and ink, which is your favourite?

Previously I'd have always said ‘ink', as it feels like such a natural medium for me. However, at the moment I’m really loving oil: I’ve been pushing and experimenting with it much more over the past year or so, as I’ve been making larger pieces. Incorporating with some of what I love about ink the fluidity and abandon: I’m excited to see what happens, as I keep on pushing it further and further.

image with artdirection
image with artdirection

"Music is a big inspiration for me: I think it helps to tap into emotions, memories, and fantasies. "

As an artist that paints mostly faces, capturing an individual’s essence quite perfectly, I’m curious to know more about the woman behind your face. Who is she? What would be captured in her portrait?

I was recently giving guided tours of my current exhibition in Shanghai, which highlighted to me that there’s an autobiographical element behind all of the pieces in the show. These are larger scale pieces and have a greater level of elements and narrative to them, which symbolize my fears, dreams and desires. I think I’m probably hiding somewhere in every face I paint. I do like to feel I’ve reached something of that person’s true essence, so thank you! Usually, I’m painting people I’ve never met in real life, so in a sense the only honesty I know is the one I interpret in their gaze. It’s my empathy for a moment, true or imagined. So, possibly, the results are a fusion of the subject and me. Capturing an inner feeling is certainly of more interest to me than an exterior one.

HGrowing up as a child, did you always have a passion for painting? Or the arts in general?

As the story with most artists goes, I drew incessantly from the time I could pick up a crayon. I would go through paper at a ridiculous rate and, when it ran out, I’d draw on the backs, cut them up, make collages and so on! That said, I truly fell in love with the world of art when I was, maybe, 13 or 14 years old. I devoured every art book at my local library and would take the train to London in order to see as many exhibitions as possible, I just couldn’t get enough!

Briefly paint me a picture of your artistic journey.

My art education, at school, was very academic, drawing and painting from life in a pretty traditional, western manner. Although I decided to study illustration rather than painting at art school, because I liked the idea that my work could be used in a more democratic way and reach a wider audience (also as it seemed a safer option in terms of making a stable life for myself!). I went on to illustrate for quite a number of years and was lucky to have some amazing clients. That being said, deep down I’m a painter. So, about seven years ago, I decided that I wanted and needed to be painting full time, whatever the financial consequences - luckily enough, so far things have been going well. I do still accept commissions, if I can have enough freedom or autonomy and the brand is a good fit for my painting. Collaborating can be a creatively rewarding experience. My main focus, now, is on developing my painting and exhibiting.

Was there ever a time you lived the cliché, but very real saying, ‘I’m a starving artist'? Tell me about that time. What did you do, and how did you get out of it?

I wouldn’t say it’s never been quite that bad, there have certainly been dicey times. Luckily, something seems to turn up to in the nick of time to turn things around!

It’s never easy to exactly pinpoint where our inspiration comes from. I know that, for me, a lot of the time people watching can spark some creativity. Not to mention, also be very entertaining! If you could say, where do you find inspiration?

Music is a big inspiration for me: I think it helps to tap into emotions, memories, and fantasies. Going to exhibitions always helps refuel motivation, if I’m having a real block. Or, if I can’t get out, just looking through books can be great – my collection of art books is probably my most precious possession.

I’m beyond impressed and, quite frankly, blown away by your high-end luxury client list! Incredible work and collaborations you’ve done. Not to completely call out favourites, however, which client you’ve worked with so far has been one of the most memorable ones? Can you tell me about that experience?

I believe it’s really dependent on the dynamic of the people: mutual trust, respect and honesty make or break a project. From the first time I met Dries Van Noten and his team in Antwerp, I knew it was going to be a special collaboration. The collection Dries was working on at the time was inspired by Marchesa Casati. With her dark eye makeup and whole dreamy aesthetic, it was an absolutely perfect fit for my ink paintings. I pretty much had free rein, initially creating paintings inspired by Marchesa Casati and her lover Gabriele D’Annunzio, and subsequently from the collection itself. Deadlines were of course a factor, and hand-painting 1,200 invites in 5 days was an overwhelming yet exhilarating challenge! Watching the show in Paris was an unforgettable moment, especially as Peter Philips had designed the make up look from my paintings: it was almost as if I was watching my paintings come to life as each model walked out! The paintings were used globally, blown up to fill their store windows. Moreover, a beautiful hardcover look book of the paintings was published, which is a lovely lifelong souvenir.

From Shanghai, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, L.A to your home in London and more, your work has been displayed in exhibitions all over the world. With the wonderful opportunity to travel, which city that you visited has been the most enjoyable?

I just returned home from two months in Shanghai, as an artist in residence and preparing for my show there. Spending time with my gallerist Han Feng was a true joy, again it’s the people that make a project or experience special. From the moment I met her in New York, I knew we were on the same page about my work and that we could trust each other. Shanghai itself is absolutely mind-blowing, and the magnitude of the city is incredible! Although I must say I absolutely love Amsterdam, the intimacy and vibrancy are so unique. The gallery scene is excellent, and walking along the canals at night with the twinkling lights, antique shops and cyclists whizzing past…well, it’s just magical. I was lucky enough and spent some time there on an artist’s residency a couple of years ago, and truly feel as if it’s somewhere I could live. I’m having an exhibition there again later this year, and can’t wait to go back.

Being a true New Yorker, I’m definitely coming from a biased point of view. However, have you ever had an exhibition in NYC? I’d be jumping with pure joy, if you did! Until then, I will keep on wishful dreaming! (Laughs E.D)

Watch out for this city, you never know!

Let's talk fashion. How would you describe your personal style?

Well, most of the time I’m a total scruff bag, in my paint-covered boiler suit! (Laughs, E.D). To be honest with you, I have very little patience for clothes shopping, but can wander around flea markets looking for vintage all day - I’m mainly drawn to seventies or Victorian looks. Shoes are always a headache issue for me, as I don’t wear leather: I have a few pairs of Stella McCartney, and I always check what she’s putting out there. I wish more luxury brands would produce vegan items.

If you had to choose, what would be the one garment in your wardrobe that you can’t live without? Trust me, this question I’m not so sure I could even answer myself, as I have many attachments to pieces I own! Each one has a special way of bringing me back to a unique memory.

Easy: my boiler suit!

Tell me your favourite color to paint and wear.

To paint, I’m always drawn to blue, specifically the blue of the ocean more than sky blue. I probably mix in a bit of Prussian blue into every painting I do! To wear, my friend Pierre makes fun of me, because I’m a total magpie when we go vintage shopping together: anything gold or shiny, I have to try it on!

What are your thoughts on social media? Are you a very active person on them? What’s the social network you use the most and why?

Instagram is the only platform I use, apart from when I was in China, where Wechat is the only real way to communicate and connect with people. I think, for creatives, Instagram is still by far the most accessible way to post your work and view that of others. I’ve been really fortunate to have a loyal following, and a lot of incredible opportunities have come from it. I’ve discovered some great artists and even made life-long friendships through it. So, on a lot of levels it has truly been amazing for me. That being said, I post much less frequently now than I used to.

Three icons you hold very dear to your heart. In regards to these icons, is there one that you’d say is a ‘Fashion Icon’ to you? If not, who would you say is?

Billie Holiday, Frida Kahlo and Björk. I wouldn’t say I have a fashion icon, but I must confess I did do the whole Björk hair bun thing for a while when I was a student!

Any plans and/or goals for the future?

As long as I can keep on painting, I’ll be happy.

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