Gillian working on a painting

About

About

Gillian is best known for her vibrant, colourful paintings that are created with multiple layers, resulting in mesmerising pieces of artwork with beautiful detail and depth. She aims to create art that is uplifting and inspiring to look at, and which explores what is important to people and why. Her paintings are a narrative about people, provoking intrigue and alluding to the energy and magic that lie beneath the surface. Gillian has exhibited with THAT Gallery, an artist collective in Basingstoke, Hampshire, since 2016 and has sold over 30 original paintings and undertaken many commissions.

Originally from Glasgow, Gillian currently lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.

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My Story

I'm inspired by people. It's why I make the art I do; it’s why I started with a degree in human biology and it’s why I decided to go travelling and spend the time immersed in different communities....

Like many artists, I have been drawing and making things since I was big enough to hold the tools to do so, and I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped. I think the advent of social media has been important for moving my art forward as it allowed me easy insights into different creative processes. I am also certain that starting a family was an important step in bringing out my creativity and this was when my artwork really began to move forward. 

I was lucky to spend two years working and studying in close-knit communities in Latin America (read more about that here) and the warmth and friendliness of the people I met and the vibrant, upbeat culture had a profound effect on the style of my work. It made me passionate about being positive, enjoying life and appreciating the small things. I hope that these uplifting vibes really come across in the beautiful combinations of vibrant colour that I always include in my work. 

 
Dare to Dream - in progress - Gillian Hancey Art

Process

 

When creating a piece a art, I usually start by obtaining a suitable source image, often from a photograph I took myself. I frequently use one of the many thousands of photographs I took on my travels in Latin America but other times I recognise something happening around me in everyday life that will work well as the basis for a painting so I intentionally try to capture this. 

Then I think about how I would like to use the source within a painting. I draw an outline of the composition onto a colourful mixed-media underpainting and gradually bring the image to life by adding multiple layers, referring back to the source but also responding to effects from the underlying patterns and textures. Often, I deviate completely from the initial plan.

 

The process is a bit like a conversation between myself and the painting - I just provide the starting point and then I see where the conversation leads. Creating a painting in this intuitive way is somewhat exhilarating: it’s not always clear where the painting is going to go next so I have to trust my intuition and not get ahead of it - it’s exciting but tense, and I live the thrill of it all coming together. 

Artist Statement

The image that a camera captures can beautifully show a moment in time; art can take this image to a different level and share more of the story. 

 

I would like people to feel a warm, positive vibe from my work, and be uplifted and inspired. I work primarily in acrylics because they allow me to create the vibrant colours that achieve this effect, and also allow me to work quite intuitively and respond to a painting - what can it show?

 

I believe that art should be exceptionally beautiful, maybe dreamy and a bit romantic, with depth and hidden layers. To this end, I start my work by creating a mixed-media underpainting with different techniques such as stenciling, scraping, glazing, stamping, scrafitti, masking, drips, mark-making, and creating texture, and work the image out of these details. 

 

Appreciate the beauty and magic in simple, everyday moments and look inwards to celebrate that we are already enough. To me, the process of creating art feels like magic in itself; a particular juxtaposition of colours or a gentle touch with the right tool can create breathtaking results.

 
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Inspiration From Travelling

If you’ve ever heard any of the stories behind my artwork you will know that most of my work is inspired in some way by time that I spent in Latin America. I wasn't so much interested in a whistle-stop tour of tourist sights but rather in 'grounding' myself - I spent time in particular communities in a selected part of the world and really tried to understand the people - their culture and way of life. 

Here’s what I did and why it inspired my work…

Shortly after turning 18, in August 2004, I headed off to the Dominican Republic to spend a year working in a school alongside other volunteers. The school was one of two built by a charity called the ‘Community Partners Association (COPA)’ set up by a retired UK couple. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and is known for beautiful white beaches typical of the Caribbean…but the Dominican Republic I experienced was very different. We lived and worked in the opposite end of the country from where tourists visit, beside the border with Haiti. We lived in a small village called Bombita which was a batey, a settlement formed by the ancestors of the people I met who originally crossed the border from Haiti to work in the sugar cane fields and then didn’t make enough money to be able to go back.

 

When we arrived, the school had been there only a few years and the most recent addition was a classroom for teaching art, which had not been used before - I was the first art teacher! I also taught English, worked with children with additional learning needs in smaller groups, made murals for the school most weeks and generally provided help and support to the teaching staff in whatever way was needed. It was a very challenging year for me and changed my whole way of thinking.

 

The culture in the Dominican Republic is so different to the UK that I will not even begin to try and describe it here. All I would say is that if you ever have the opportunity to spend time in this part of the world, I wholeheartedly urge you to take it (and make sure you don’t stay within the walls of a hotel resort). I also recommend you put aside any perceptions you have about what is typical of people and society. Try and start again and see the world as the people you are with do. Many visitors came and went in the time I was there and without exception, every person was moved and changed by what they experienced.

 

The languages spoken in this area were Spanish and Creole and I knew very little of either when I arrived. At the beginning I had enough Spanish to be able to introduce myself and count to 10, but only 4 months later I was fluent. I say this not to try to show off but rather with gratitude to the villagers of Bombita, who were so welcoming and really gave me their time to help me learn, and patiently repeated and explained things over and over again until I understood. Learning a language while immersed in the culture was incredible - I found that understanding the language, particularly those words and phrases that didn’t really have a translation in English, gave me unique insight and understanding of the culture and the way that people thought. People were everything in the Dominican Republic and we had company from our friends, students or colleagues more or less all the time in a way that does not happen in the UK.

I have some truly hair-raising tales about some of the adventures I had in this amazing country - to name a few, a horrific journey on a guagua (bus) that was packed so full with people that I had to be loaded in through the window, a terrifying ordeal where I discovered that the medical ‘solution’ for anything unusual on your skin in Dominican seems to be to just to rip it off, and the time that we had to escape the village on mopeds to avoid being caught in a neighbourly dispute that resulted in gunfire.

In the final months before I returned home, I spent a few weeks travelling through Guatemala and Mexico and then we went back to the school, now in the summer holidays, to help visiting missionary groups run their activities and act as translators.


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Back in the UK, I went to the University of Edinburgh to do a life sciences degree but I still really had the travel bug. I saw that there was an opportunity to do an exchange year at an international university and I jumped on it. There were two places at a university in Mexico, the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), and I was delighted to be given one of them. 

 

I set off in August 2007 and I was a bit more nervous this time than I had been going to the Dominican Republic as I think I had a clearer idea of what I was letting myself in for. Also, I literally packed two bags and went myself - I didn’t have anywhere to live and I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to do all the courses I’d need to to make it count for a year of my degree. It all worked out astonishingly well. I lived in a flat with a mixture of Mexicans and other international students and was able to take a variety of courses, including some unrelated to my degree but that gave me the opportunity to learn about Mexican culture. There was a relatively small group of students taking my degree programme and I think they were slightly surprised to suddenly have a non-Mexican student join them, but I was warmly welcomed and everyone was so helpful and supportive, and made sure I could take part in everything. I made some close friends and I was invited to go back with them to their family homes, all over Mexico, during holidays. These opportunities gave me great insight into Mexican life. 

 

I had many interesting and incredible experiences during my time in Mexico. One of the events that stood out for me was Day of the Dead - we travelled to the Island to Janitzio Island in Michoacan for this and it was visually one of the most captivating experiences I have ever had. In general, I was incredibly inspired by how colourful Mexico was - the buildings, particularly the town of Guanajuato, the food (and how delicious it was too), and the market stalls with handmade crafts and fabrics. 

 

I wanted to make the most of my time in that part of the world before coming back to the UK and Peru was one of the countries I had wanted to visit for a while. So I found a charity that was happy to have me as a volunteer and arranged to work with them for a month. The charity Peru Luz de Luz de Esperanza were based in a small town called Chupaca, near Huancayo. They were helping in two schools in nearby villages, Matapuquio and Andamarcas. With minimal resources (whatever I could obtain in the small village shop), I taught chemistry to some of the more able students in the school and ran first aid classes for the mothers of the children - some good challenges for my Spanish! I helped out with various other activities for the adults and children in the village, and while I was there I travelled to some nearby places to see a bit more of the country. Although I was only there for a month, the photos I took in Peru have been the inspiration behind more artwork than any other country. You can see this collection here.

 

My last stop in my Latin American adventure was in Venezuela. One of the friends I had met whilst in Edinburgh was from Venezuela and temporarily studying and working in the UK, so we decided we would meet in Venezuela. I had a really fun few weeks meeting all of her family and friends and experiencing a very different culture yet again, before my two-year journey in Latin America finally came to an end and I came back to settle in the UK.