Artist biography

English painter. She studied at Camberwell School of Art, London (1946–50). Painters such as Henry Mundy (b 1919), Roger Hilton, Robyn Denny (b 1931) and Howard Hodgkin were close friends. In 1960 she took part in the Situation exhibition at the RBA Galleries in London but, unlike most of her colleagues, who worked in a cool hard-edge style, she painted in a free tachist manner inspired in part by photographs of Jackson Pollock working on the floor. From 1964 to 1976 she worked in acrylic, producing powdery, close-toned canvases that were similar in their textures to the contemporary work of the Americans Jules Olitski and Larry Poons.

In 1977 Ayres changed over to oil paint, manipulating it like strands of clay to build up thick iridescent surfaces where colours seem to merge into each other or waft outwards, as in Orlando furioso (1977–9; AC England). While such painting may evoke the shimmering floral confusion of late Monets, the directness of the handling – often the paint is pressed into place by hand – ensures a strong physical presence. From the late 1970s, Ayres's consistently lyrical abstract paintings began to emphasise the decorative role of the internal forms within simple formats, often square or circular in shape.

G. Williams: ‘Notes on Gillian Ayres', A. Int., xxiv/7–8 (1981), pp. 98–104, 160
Gillian Ayres: Paintings (exh. cat., ed. D. Elliott, text T. Hilton; Oxford, MOMA, 1981)
Gillian Ayres (exh. cat., text T. Hilton; London, ACGB, 1983)


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