Tate Britain

Gillian Ayres

Main Floor
Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘Phaëthon’ 1990
Gillian Ayres OBE, Phaëthon 1990. Tate. © Gillian Ayres

This display concentrates on works made through the 1980s and early 1990s

I don’t see why you shouldn’t be filling yourself up, making yourself happy. Enjoying yourself. Feasting on beauty. I want an art that’s going to make me feel heady, in a high-flown way. I love the idea. I’d use the word spiritual. I’m not frightened of all that.
Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1989. By that time she had been a leading figure in British abstract painting for over thirty years. In the early 1980s Gillian Ayres’s painting underwent a profound change as she consolidated her late style: a richly allusive and expressive abstraction in high-keyed colour.

Like many British artists in the late 1950s, Ayres appeared to have been influenced by North American abstract expressionism, and she initially painted on the floor like Jackson Pollock (1912–1956). However, her use of colour, her compositions and her love of the material of paint suggest a distinctly Western European identity.

The works in this room date from the 1980s and 1990s and reveal a new freedom in Ayres’s painting that began after she moved to North Wales in 1981. She had resigned as Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art, where she had taught since 1978. In Wales, she started to use oil paint again rather than acrylic. Her paintings – their content and the way she painted them – became more intense and joyful in their abstraction of the real world, and rooted in experience rather than depiction.

Curated by Andrew Wilson


Tate Britain
London SW1P 4RG
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