Words by Hannah Tapping
From surfboard artist to resin artist; the transformation of Dutch Zee van Gils
Above and Below
The tale of Zee’s life reads like an adventure novel. Her early education was far-removed from anything in the art world. She began by studying animal care and wildlife research in her home country of The Netherlands; a study that allowed her to travel the wold. She spent a time volunteering with the Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation in Tenerife moving on to working in elephant shelters and on an organic farm. Zee tells me: “Travelling got me out of a pretty bad depression and helped me to open my mind.”
Left: Preparing the panels / Right: Pouring the resin
Eventually, Zee settled in a small fishing village on Lombok, an Indonesian island famed for its beaches and surf spots, where she lived pretty much off grid in a little hillside cabin. Surfing dominated Zee’s daily life, from being on the water, working as a surf photographer and creating surfboard art alongside the first surfboard shapers on Lombok island at Banyu Surfboards. With no classical art training, Zee is self-taught, developing a creative talent for drawing and making that began when she was a young girl.
Zee van Gils
Learning to ‘glass’ the boards she was working on was Zee’s introduction to resin. As she looked around her she was inspired by the shapes, colours and textures of the ocean and had a desire to recreate them in resin. All of the materials had to be imported and it cost Zee six months of savings to obtain what she needed. With no-one to learn from, it was a case of trial and error: “I accidentally covered my bedroom floor in resin and almost set my wooden house on fire,” explains Zee.” I drove around for five hours once to find wood so I could build my own panels and wasted hundreds of pounds experimenting with this medium to find the techniques and textures that I wanted to achieve.” Three years later and a move to Perth, Australia with her boyfriend Anthony, Zee was rewarded with her first exhibition. Life in Australia however was not meant to be. Visa technicalities lead to a six hour interrogation, four days in an airport detention centre, followed by deportation via Indonesia back to The Netherlands. “I laugh about it now,” says Zee, “but I certainly wasn’t laughing at the time. I had to leave my boyfriend way back in Australia to finish my exhibition and to then sell all our belongings!” What felt like seven long weeks later and the couple were reunited. Anthony secured a job as a hydrographic surveyor which would take him offshore for work, meaning the world was now Zee’s oyster in terms of where she would settle.
Return To Self
The Lady / Arbo Board / Through Your Eyes
And so Zee chose the Cornish surf mecca of Newquay, where she now creates her pieces from a small garden studio. Taking inspiration from her natural surroundings, above and below the surface, Zee uses a two-part resin that she then colours with inks and powder pigments: “I love the many coloured pots of resin that are the first part of the process. These are then poured on to Birch panels and as you pour the resin it keeps moving and flowing. Working across three continents I have found that the resin behaves very differently depending on the climate and so you’re never quite sure what the end result will be – it’s a very exciting process. Since moving to Cornwall, this has been the first time that I have been able to concentrate solely on my art, giving it my full attention, rather than having to work three or four jobs on the side.”
It comes as no surprise that Zee has also managed to combine her passion for surfing with her artistry. Last year saw a collaboration with Album surfboards from California, while closer to home, local shapers such as Bos and Arbo are incorporating Zee’s designs into their boards. Alongside her resin art, Zee also creates flora-inspired wall murals. A contrast from the micro designs in the resin, these macro patterns can cover over 200 square feet of wall, as can be seen at a recent installation at Mawgan Porth, creating a dramatic effect in a swimming pool area. Zee’s work has now found homes in over fifteen different countries worldwide.