Artistic life has taken Gillian Kaye around the world

Gillian Kaye Peebles
Gillian Kaye Peebles Picture: Peter Allison

Perth artist Gillian Kaye Peebles has crammed more into her life than most and shows no signs of slowing down. 

Her life as an artist has taken her around the world to international recognition and meeting up with celebrated people including actor Charlton Heston and Prince Philip’s cousin Count De D’Angerville in London.

“I had a childhood of sitting among sheep and drawing ships to sitting among ships to draw sheep going into sheep ships,” Gillian Kaye (formerly Aitken, née Easton) tells Have a Go News.

“As a child I spent my hard-earned pocket money on art materials rather than lollies, my dream was to paint, but my father said no.”

Born in Boyup Brook, Gillian Kaye, now 77, recalls helping her father catch rabbits, skinning them and leaving the pelts to dry, for which she received the princely sum of one shilling each. 

“I used the money to buy art materials and, at nine, had my first art award win at the Dinninup Show. Even though my father thought I should pursue a career as a bank officer with the Bank of NSW (now Westpac) my love of art never dimmed.”

Educated at Boyup Brook Junior High School and St Hilda’s Mosman Park, Gillian Kaye spent a decade as a bank officer until she took up opera singing with painting as a hobby. 

“But my voice was badly affected when I contracted an infection while learning Madame Butterfly for my grandmother’s 80th birthday and I never sang again.”

Her talent and affinity for art was something she could turn to, which she did. 

Married to Allan Aitken in 1965 and later the mother of two sons, she entered the prestigious Claude Hotchin Art Prize in 1970 and her work was accepted. Gillian Kaye’s career has followed a self-educated path. she is mainly self-taught with senior accreditations with the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1984 and 1985, the only Australian to hold these awards.

“I stayed in London on both occasions and the Royal Academy billeted me with Prince Philip’s cousin Count De D’Angerville in part of the Old Observatory in Kensington,” Gillian Kaye said.

“I taught the Countess water colours in appreciation of my stay.”

Since her first judging appointment in 1975, Gillian Kaye has judged competitive exhibitions at international, national, state, regional and local levels including most of WA’s annual exhibitions.

In 2002 she won both the silver medal and People’s Choice awards in the prestigious Caterina de Medici plein air painting awards in Florence. The mayor, who was involved in the event, purchased her winning entry for the city’s famous art collection.

Married to Ronald Edward Peebles, Gillian accepted an invitation to do an oil painting in the hills above Florence. 

“Tourist buses would travel from artist to artist observing our work. But one day I noticed the splendid Duomo from my bedroom window and decided I would paint it so I had around eight to 10 tourists in our bedroom watching me paint.”

Back home, a major maritime commission for Gillian Kaye was two large oil paintings of trawlers built in WA for the Jordanian royal family’s fishing fleet. The two artworks were added to the family’s Hong Kong office collection.

From September 1972, Gillian Kaye taught art to SAS returning soldiers in the morning and to their wives and partners in the afternoon, helping establish the SAS Art Prize exhibition, now called Army Art. 

In the mid 1970s she was one of five people who helped establish and taught at the Atwell Gallery in Alfred Cove. She has annually sponsored and judged the Atwell Gallery Youth Awards, now in its 19th year.

“I can honestly say that my work is my pleasure. If I can help others along the way, I have doubled my pleasure,” says Gillian Kaye.

“To those who need encouragement, I say: Don’t dream dreams of creation, create your dreams.”