Gillian Ayres

Art on This Day
Gillian Ayres, Antony and Cleopatra, 1982, oil on canvas


Today marks the birthday of Gillian Ayres, a London-born painter and printmaker. One of Britain's most celebrated and influential abstract painters, she gained the most recognition through her heavily worked, vibrant canvases.


She was accepted at the Slade School of Fine Arts, however being only 16, she was too young to enroll and attended the Camberwell School of Art instead. Majority of her works constitute abstraction; often working with oil and ripolin poured on wooden panels in the earlier years of her career, she later progressed to applying thick layers of oil to achieve clear and defined shapes and edges. She is also widely known for her printmaking, with techniques spanning across woodcuts, etchings and hand-painted monoprints.
Gillian Ayres started off as one of the first Young Contemporaries. Her first solo show was held at Gallery One in London in 1956, followed by regular solo exhbitions across Europe. Retrospectives of her work have been shown at the Tate Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts and the Serpentine Gallery, with the latter touring across Britain in 1983. Her work largely explores the idea of paintings being "about painting, about shape and colour, not telling stories", however she rarely assumed a neutral position on social issues. Together with one of her best school friends, current politician Shirley Williams, she took up teaching art to children in war-scarred areas of London. Ayres also worked at Artists' International Association Gallery, operated by the now inactive London-based society that held shows with the aim of promoting "unity of artists for peace, democracy and cultural development", featuring art of both traditional and modernist styles.


Ayres was shortlisted as one of the 1989 Turner Prize nominees alongside receiving a CBE and multiple other rewards. Elected Royal Academician in 1991, she temporarily suspended her membership with the Royal Academy of Art as a response to what she considered an innacurate representation of older members of the Academy in a BBC documentary. After severals years of teaching at Saint Martin's School of Art, Winchester School of Art and various other, she moved to Wales for majority of the 1980s to concentrate on painting, with National Museum Cardiff set to showcase the influence of Welsh landscapes on her art and personal life through the widest selection of her works to date going on show this April. Now living on the border between Devon and Cornwall, the artist continues to spend each day at her studio producing consistently colour-rich and energetic works; she is represented by and regularly shows at Alan Cristea Gallery in London, with an exhibition of her paintings and works on paper opening this March.