Historic show from a champion of painting

Gillian Ayres (right) at the opening of her "Paintings from the '50s" at the Jerwood Gallery. Photograph by Jodi Warren.
Gillian Ayres (right) at the opening of her "Paintings from the '50s" at the Jerwood Gallery. Photograph by Jodi Warren.

MORE THAN half a century after she worked on them, and with some on public display for the first time, Gillian Ayres’ Paintings from the ‘50s is on show at the Jerwood Gallery.

Ayres has long wanted this group of works to be exhibited in public, and said: “They were not shown very much at the time; they were really hidden.”

Particularly stunning is the mural Ayres created for the dining room at the Hampstead High School for Girls, which is displayed in a room of its own.

It was the first work that Ayres created on this scale with each of the four panels measuring seven and a half feet high and respectively three, four, nine and eleven feet wide.

Never before exhibited in public, this is a coup for the Jerwood, and indeed Hastings.

Her painting is entirely abstract and the works from this period were created by dripping and pouring paint onto the canvas.

While this may not seem particularly radical now, Ayres’ work and way of thinking went against the grain in the art world of the 1950s, and even when painting as an artform was out of fashion in the 1970s, Ayres persisted.

When she was a lecturer at St Martin’s in London, other members of staff warned students, “Don’t listen to her, she’ll make you want to paint.”

Now 82, she has continued to paint ever since, and at the Alan Cristea Gallery, in London, in November there will be a solo show of her recent work.

One of Britain’s pioneering abstract artists, Gillian Ayres was made an OBE in 1986, shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989, became a Royal Academician in1991 and was made a CBE in 2011.

Ayres’s grandmother lived in Hastings during the Second World War, and while visiting aged 19, she painted several views of The Stade.

On success, she said: “We all love success, but it doesn’t come first. No artist wants their work to end up in the attic.”

The exhibition runs at the Jerwood until November 25.