Heather Gourlay-Conyngham was born in Durban, South Africa in 1956 and now lives in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. 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, outside Pietermaritzburg. Since then she has had four solo exhibitions, participated in 25 group shows and won the first Sanlam Portrait Award in 2013.
Humanity is the unifying thread throughout her art, principally in portraits but also in work that reflects the consequences of human actions. Her paintings show the empathy and respect she has for her subjects, whether they are family, friends or strangers whom she has come to know while carrying out commissions. Using a realistic idiom, the manner in which she contextualises her figures often evokes allegorical interpretation. Her subject-matter – people, as well as natural and inanimate objects – is acutely observed, painstakingly rendered and instilled with an innate energy.
In recent years, ideas evident in her paintings have been developed into installations in which conventional representational drawings have been combined with imagery created from unconventional mediums.