One of Britain’s most respected and best-loved painters, Gillian Ayres is celebrated as one of the pioneering English abstract artists and, as well as the vibrant, heavily worked canvases for which she is best known, she is also a dedicated printmaker. The forthcoming exhibition will include over 20 new oil paintings, on which she has been working for over 3 years, together with a group of new works on paper, including acrylics and her first series of woodcut prints. Gillian is both a Royal Academician and recent recipient of a CBE.
Whilst Ayres’s paintings have never been representational, the forms in these new works seem reminiscent of leaf and flower shapes clearly seen in works such as Apadana, Cynthu’s Hill, and Helen’s Glade, all oil on canvas and executed in 2011. These works display the energy and vibrant palette for which Ayres is celebrated, as well as representing a noticeable progression; they exude the confidence of a painter at the height of her powers. The woodcuts that Ayres has produced are all named after famous gardens, including Mirabell, Tivoli and Heligan. The garden that she created from scratch, some 23 years ago and which surrounds her studio in North Devon, has been an inspiration to her and one which she has drawn upon throughout her long career.
The forthcoming exhibition marks 30 years since Ayres was elected as an Associate Royal Academician, and over 50 years since she took part in the Art Council’s ‘Situation’, a touring exhibition showcasing the YBAs of the day, including Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro, and which Ayres credits as firmly establishing her reputation as one of Britain’s first and most eminent abstract painters. Gillian Ayres was made an OBE in 1986, was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989, became a Royal Academician in 1991 and was made a CBE in 2011.
As a companion to this exhibition, autumn 2012 will also see another public exhibition devoted to her early paintings at The Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, from 6 October until 25 November 2012. This exhibition, in partnership with Alan Cristea Gallery, will be the most comprehensive survey of her paintings from the 1950s ever assembled. It was these works which first brought her into the public eye and established her as a leading painter of her generation. She has cited a collection of photographs of Jackson Pollock working on his paintings on the floor, as an early inspiration which encouraged her to work without brushes and with physical movements, unlike those of conventional easel painters. Ayres has always wanted this group to be shown in a public institution – this exhibition sees this wish coming to fruition, with the works being shown together for the very first time, alongside the 80-foot-long mural that she created for South Hampstead School for Girls in 1957. This seminal work has never previously been seen outside of its original setting within the school.
Ayres decided to become a painter at the age of fourteen and studied at Camberwell School of Art from 1946-50, before running the AIA Gallery with painter Henry Mundy whom she later married. Throughout her career she has continued to develop her instinctive approach to colour; in 1978 she turned from using acrylic to oil, and over the following years developed the pictorial surface with which she became synonymous – layer upon layer of thickly applied and worked paint. More recently, the surface of the paintings have become sparser and the forms more lyrical, and yet they retain the vivid palette and joy of colour.
Gillian Ayres taught at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham from 1959 to 1965, and later also taught at St. Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the British Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Gillian Ayres across both of the Alan Cristea Gallery spaces in 31 and 34 Cork Street, from 16 November until 22 December 2012.