Gillian Ayres at her home studio in Gooseham, Cornwall, 2004

Gillian Ayres at her home studio in Gooseham, Cornwall, 2004 Photo: Jim Wileman / Alamy Stock Photo

Gillian Ayres was obsessed with painting. She is one of the most famous British abstract painters. Being an abstract painter meant you didn't care about artworks looking like real things, like people or buildings, but you care about shapes, colours and emotions. Someone asked her once what her artwork was about, and she just listed random things like ice cream, cakes, seaweed, shells and hats!

Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘The Colour That Was There’ 1993
Gillian Ayres OBE
The Colour That Was There 1993
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© Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres was influenced by North American artists like Jackson Pollock. He painted giant dripping paintings. Like Pollock, Ayres worked on her painting while the canvas was flat on the floor. She also was inspired by Henri Matisse. He used big bright paper to make his collaged artwork. Can you see the similarities? What are the differences?

Jackson Pollock, ‘Number 23’ 1948
Jackson Pollock
Number 23 1948
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© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019
Henri Matisse, ‘The Dancer’ 1949
Henri Matisse
The Dancer 1949
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© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2019

In the 1970s, she became the first woman ever to run an art department in a British Art School! When she was older, she moved to North Wales. In Wales, she started to use oil paint again rather than acrylic paint to make her artwork. Oil paint is really thick and sometimes she would apply the paint so it would be inches thick! While she lived in Wales her artwork became even bolder and more joyful.

Gillian Ayres wanted people to be happy when they looked at her art and the world around them. Does her art make you feel happy? What other emotions do you feel?

Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ 1982
Gillian Ayres OBE
Antony and Cleopatra 1982
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© Gillian Ayres

I don’t see why you shouldn’t be filling yourself up, making yourself happy. Enjoying yourself.

Gillian Ayres

Have you ever looked at a painting and wondered why the artist has called it that? Have you ever titled art you have made? A lot of Gillian Ayres's artworks were given a title after the painting was completed. Ayres's titles do not describe what the painting is about. She thinks about how the artwork make her feels and what that reminds her of.

Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘Phaëthon’ 1990
Gillian Ayres OBE
Phaëthon 1990
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© Gillian Ayres

The title of this work refers to the figure of Phaëthon. He was a character in Greek mythology. This means stories about gods and magical beings. He was also the son of the sun god Apollo. Can you see all the bright sun-colours she used? Yellow, red and orange!

Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘Sundark Blues’ 1994
Gillian Ayres OBE
Sundark Blues 1994
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© Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres was obsessed with painting since she was 13 years old. She celebrated painting. She loved using shapes in her art. What shapes can you see? Can you see triangles, circles, semi-circles, and zig-zags?

Gillian Ayres said you don’t need to understand her art to like it. She just wants you to look at it! What do you think about when you look at her artwork?