Heather Gourlay Conyngham

Heather Gourlay-Conyngham was born in Durban in 1956 and spent her early years in Westville, outside the city. Having acquired a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts degree from the University of Natal and a Higher Education Diploma from the University of South Africa, she combined her career as an art teacher at various schools in KwaZulu-Natal with that of an artist, but in 2012 began painting full-time at her home in Hilton, near Pietermaritzburg. Since then she has had four solo exhibitions, and in 2013 won the first Sanlam Portrait Award.

The unifying thread throughout her work is humanity, seen either in realistic depictions of people or expressed in works that reflect the consequence of human actions. Known particularly for her portraits, Gourlay-Conyngham’s paintings have almost always depicted people, often with the figure and its context stripped to their bare essentials. More recently, her compositions have included objects and complex natural backgrounds that assume an allegorical role and profoundly affect the manner in which the figure is perceived.

Included in Gourlay-Conyngham’s 2017 exhibition at the Everard Read Gallery was an installation that comprised components of mediums other than painting and demonstrated that, whether painted, drawn, cut or assembled, all her works display fine, almost obsessive detail and intricacy.

More recently the theme of global warming that underpinned this installation has been extended to include paintings and monumental drawings of the ocean, which relate to the fragility of marine habitats. Figures, plants, animals, marine life, landscapes and seascapes as well as inanimate objects, are acutely observed and painstakingly rendered, and the artworks instilled with tension and an innate energy.

Heather Gourlay-Conyngham’s enduring fascination with the human condition underpins her work. Her empathy for her subjects, whether family or friends, people whom she has come to know while working on a commission, or land- and seacapes, animals and plants, together with the respect with which she accords her subjects, is palpable. But, as seen in the her 2017 installation and recent ocean works, which serve to highlight the destructive nature of mankind, it becomes evident that while seeking beauty in her works, her view of humanity is not uncritical.

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