I first met Billy Gibney through his partner Simone, who at the time worked with my partner at a local wine bar. I had heard from both (Simone & Ella), how Billy and I would get along as we both have a similar disposition. For months the four of us had tried making plans to have lunch together and get to know one another a little better. Ironically it was a date pencilled in for me to come and photograph Simone putting together some dishes in their home in Carlton that would finally make it happen, and after some wine and pierogis (more to come on that soon) my man crush was confirmed.
Billy is the kind of person who genuinely makes you want to be better. Present, sweet, thoughtful, and of course incredibly talented. In the post-lockdown-turbo-setting that is 2022, everyone wants to be, and do, everything. We all started hobbies during those months locked inside. Baking sourdough, learning languages, researching NFT’s etc, etc... and now that we have the freedom to travel and explore again, sadly many of us have fallen straight back into the same ‘I’m so busy’ daily grind, and have left those hobbies behind. Except for Billy, of course.
What started as an interest during the solitary months away from his partner and friends in 2020, learning to paint has blossomed into a formidable love affair with the medium. Self-taught, Billy’s hyper real paintings dish up cinematic drama at its finest. Food and its ubiquity take centre stage, although it’s the romantic and perhaps provocative interplay with surrounding players that make his pieces intrigue.
His ability to create a narrative on canvas stems from a history of multidisciplinary practice. Music, photography, design, and illustration have all informed his current approach to creating.
“The process generally starts with a simple idea or illustration; I then attempt to composite this using photography. These photographs become the reference to begin the underpainting, building up tone on the canvas, marking areas of light and darkness. From here, I don’t really have a clear process in how I paint. I’m actively trying something new with each painting. Currently I’m enjoying experimenting with bigger sweeping brush strokes and restricting my palette further. Maybe in the next painting I’ll be experimenting with something different. That’s the fun of it all, discovering new ways of using the medium and always learning.”
Billy’s stock has quickly risen in the local art scene, with several group shows under his belt already, and a solo display earmarked for the end of the year. It would be natural to notice your ego inflate and feel the need to start pumping out pieces in search of further validation. But Billy is sensitive to his process and understands the larger picture and context of his practice.
“I think the most difficult element is committing to a concept/idea without being overly influenced by others. Although, I also find idea generation one of the most enjoyable aspects. There is so much stimulation around that it makes it hard to pick and choose what influences our creative outcomes. To navigate this, I’ve taken some steps which hopefully results in work that is more genuine to me. This has involved limiting screen/social media time and making more time to be present in my friendships/relationships. Also carrying a little notebook to quickly jot down an idea or sketch before you forget. Even just taking time away from creating; simply going for a solo walk or swim can do a lot.
I do however think it’s great that we have so much content and inspiration at our disposal. It’s just important to critique your own work and question whether it’s what you genuinely want to be creating or if it’s influenced to the point, it becomes work other people want you to make.”
As individuals, we often only gain wisdom through life experience. The more trivial events of our day to day consume us in a way that we feel deflated and uninspired. Unfortunately, we await trauma to trigger a response within, something that ties us deeper to our sense of belonging. In Billy’s case, it was being diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease in his teenage years, and he’s used the situation to enact change upon his lifestyle and general well-being.
“Being told I may not be able to walk in 10-20 years as an active teenager was pretty difficult to comprehend. I don’t think it’s something I can overcome completely, but I’ve accepted it and focused on how it has affected my life in positive ways. For example, I began painting as a form of therapy to help with chronic pain I was experiencing. So, in some odd way, I’m grateful for the thing that causes me the most trouble… It’s the old blessing and a curse scenario. I would be a very different person without it and I’m happy with my life and who I am. I also may not have found a love for painting without it!”