Looking back over a career spanning six decades

Gillian Ayres. � Mike Hoban Photography, courtesy Mike Hoban
Gillian Ayres. � Mike Hoban Photography, courtesy Mike Hoban

THE FORTHCOMING exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery celebrates the work of one of Britain’s pioneering abstract artists Gillian Ayres.

Opening on October 6 and running until November 25, this will be the most comprehensive survey of her paintings from the 1950s ever assembled.

The exhibition marks 30 years since Ayres was elected as an Associate Royal Academician, and over 50 years since she took part in the Art Council’s Situation, a touring exhibition showcasing the YBAs of the day, including Bridget Riley and Anthony Caro, and which Ayres credits as firmly establishing her reputation as one of Britain’s first and most eminent abstract painters.

Jerwood director Liz Gilmore said: “The directness and simplicity of the exhibition title, Paintings from the 50s, references the forthright character of Ayres, yet also belies the complexity of her visual language.

Ayres’ʼ paintings are a phenomenon in themselves. We are thrilled to be hosting the most comprehensive survey of Ayres’ works from the ‘50s, which established her as one of the leading abstract painters of her generationʼ.”

Ayres was made an OBE in 1986, was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989, became a Royal Academician in 1991 and was made a CBE in 2011. The paintings to go on show at the Jerwood Gallery are the works that first brought her into the public eye.

During this period Ayres was painting without brushes and, unlike the conventional easel painters at the time, worked on the floor using broad physical movements, a technique that echoed Jackson Pollock’s “action paintings”.

These works are being shown together for the first time, alongside the 80-foot-long mural that she created the dining room at the Hampstead High School for Girls.

Now aged 82, Ayres decided to become a painter at 14, and studied at Camberwell

School of Art from 1946-50, before running the AIA Gallery with painter Henry Mundy whom she later married.

Ayres taught at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham from 1959 to 1965, and later also taught at St. Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art.

Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the British Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, and the Museum of Modern Art, in New York.