Gillian Ayres


Gillian Ayres, the painter, printmaker and teacher and one of the leading British abstract artists of her generation, was born in London in 1930. She studied at Camberwell School of Art from 1946-50, where she met her future husband Henry Mundy, and established friendships with the artists Roger Hilton, Robyn Denny and Howard Hodgkin. After working part-time running the AIA Gallery (Artists International Association) with Mundy in the 1950s, Ayres taught at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham until 1965. She then taught at St Martin's School of Art from 1965-78, at a time when it was a centre of London's avant-garde, and was later Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art from 1978-81.
Her early paintings from the 1950s merged European tachisme with abstract expressionism, partly inspired by Jackson Pollock's drip and pour techniques. Ayres had her first solo exhibition at Victor Musgrave's Gallery One in London in 1956, and was included in the Situation exhibition at the RBA in 1960. By the mid-1960s, she began to use acrylic paints to produce works using a limited colour range and simpler forms.
Ayres exhibited with the Kasmin Gallery, London in the late 1960s, and was also included in the Whitechapel Gallery's British Painting exhibition in 1965. From 1979, she had several exhibitions with the Knoedler Gallery in London and New York. Her paintings of this period had become more colourful and she had begun to use thick oil paint to build textured, impasto surfaces, which gave her works a very physical presence.
Ayres was made an OBE in 1986, and became an RA in 1991. She exhibited in many British and international galleries. A solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1981 was followed by a retrospective exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 1983. Ayres was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1989 and had solo shows at the Tate Gallery, London in 1995 and at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in1997.
Her work is represented in major public collections including the Arts Council of Great Britain; the British Council; the British Museum; the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; the Museum of Modern Art, Brasilia; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; the Ulster Museum, Belfast; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; and the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.