Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres

Antony and Cleopatra, 1982, Tate Gallery
Born (1930-02-03) 3 February 1930[1]
Barnes, London, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Education St Paul's Girls' School
Known for Painting
Notable work Antony and Cleopatra
Awards Blackstone Prize (1988) and Charles Wollaston Award (1989), Royal Academy of Arts

Gillian Ayres, CBE RA (born 3 February 1930) is a Turner Prize nominated English painter. She is best known for abstract painting and printmaking using vibrant colours.

Early life and education

Ayres was born on 3 February 1930 in Barnes, London, the youngest of three sisters.[1][2] Ayres started school when she was six. Her parents, a prosperous couple, sent her to Ibstock, a progressive school in Roehampton run on Fröbel principles.[2][3] In 1941 Ayres was sent to Colet Court, the junior school for St Paul's, in Hammersmith, where on her eleventh birthday she finally learnt to read.[4] She passed the entrance exam for St Paul's Girls' School the following year,[4] and developed an interest in art while there.[1][2] Among her best schoolfriends was Shirley Williams, with whom she taught art to children in bomb-ravaged parts of London.[5] Ayres then decided to go to art school. In 1946, she applied to the Slade School of Fine Art and was accepted. However, at sixteen, she was too young to enrol. She was advised to apply to the Camberwell School of Art and studied there from 1946 to 1950.[6]


Ayres worked part-time at the AIA Gallery in Soho from 1951 to 1959 before starting a teaching career.[6] Ayres held a number of teaching posts through the 1960s and 1970s, becoming friends with painters such as Howard Hodgkin, Robyn Denny and Roger Hilton. In 1959, Ayres was asked to teach at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham for six weeks. She remained on the teaching staff until 1965. For much of her time at Corsham she shared a teaching studio with Malcolm Hughes.[7] She was a senior lecturer at Saint Martin's School of Art, London, from 1965 to 1978 and became head of painting at Winchester School of Art in 1978.[6] Ayres left teaching in 1981, and moved to an old rectory on the Llyn Peninsula in north-west Wales to become a full-time painter.[2][6]


Ayres' early works are typically made with thin vinyl paint in a limited number of colours arranged in relatively simple forms, but later works in oil paint are more exuberant and very colourful, with a thick impasto being used. The titles of her paintings, such as Anthony and Cleopatra (1982) and A Midsummer Night (1990), are usually given after the painting is completed and do not directly describe the content of the painting, but rather are intended to resonate with the general mood of the work.

Hand-painted prints

Prints proofed by Gillian Ayres and Jack Shirreff were printed in Wiltshire then published and distributed by Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2001.[8] The unique prints and editioned prints created in 2000 and 2001 respectively were:

  1. Apt. No.3
  2. Hartland No.5
  3. Hartland No.7
  4. Lacoste No.3
  5. Lacoste No.4
  6. Stardust No. 1
  7. Stardust No.2
  1. At this stage
  2. Matuka
  3. Rombuk
  4. Finnegan's Lake
  5. Blueberry Hill
  6. Honey Blues

Solo exhibitions and collections

Gillian Ayres has had a number of solo exhibitions, her first was held at Gallery One, London in 1956.[1] Since 1980 she has been featured in over 25 solo exhibitions.[9] [10] Her art is also featured in the collections of numerous galleries, including Tate Gallery, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.[10]


Ayres' was awarded the Japan International Art Promotion Association Award in 1963 and in 1975 was awarded a bursary by the Arts Council of Great Britain.[9] In 1982 she was named runner up for the John Moores Painting Prize[9] and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989.[11] She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1986, and in 1991 became a Royal Academician.[1] She later temporarily resigned from the Academy, following the broadcast of a BBC Omnibus television documentary about the preparations for the controversial Sensation exhibition hosted by the Academy in 1997 show-casing the Young British Artists.[12] The documentary, according to Ayres, presented an unfair view of the older members of the Academy.[12] Ayres also objected to the inclusion of Marcus Harvey's portrait of the killer Myra Hindley in the exhibition.[12] She is represented by the Alan Cristea Gallery, London.[13] She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours.[14][15]

Momart fire (2004)

Fourteen of Ayres' pieces were destroyed in the 2004 fire at art storage facility Momart.[9][16]

Personal life

Ayres married painter Henry Mundy in 1951.[6] They divorced almost 30 years later but currently live together.[2] They have two sons born 1958 and 1966.[6] The couple live with their younger son,[2] Sam Mundy, who is a painter.[17] She moved from Wales in 1987 to a 15th-century cottage at Morwenstow on the Devon-Cornwall border.[17] In the late 1970s, Ayres suffered from pancreatitis and was comatose for four days and later she experienced a heart attack in 2003.[2]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Gillian Ayres RA". Royal Academy of Arts. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gayford, Martin (2010-01-28). "Abstract artist Gillian Ayres: painting against the tide". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 July 2010.
  3. Gooding, p14
  4. 1 2 Gooding, p15
  5. "All About The Work of Gillian Ayres". 2014-02-19. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bumpus, Judith (1997-07-01). Dictionary of Women Artists. 1. Routledge. pp. 203–206. ISBN 978-1-884964-21-3.
  7. Gooding, p46
  8. Gillian Ayres: Hand-Painted Prints 2000-2001. London: Alan Cristea Gallery. 2001.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Gooding, Mel (2004). Gillian Ayres : paintings and works on paper 1980-2004. London: Alan Cristea Gallery. ISBN 0-9534839-3-2.
  10. 1 2 "Gillian Ayres RA". Royal Academy of Arts. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  11. "Turner Prize History 1984-2000". Artlyst. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  12. 1 2 3 Thorpe, Vanessa (September 21, 1997). "Hindley picture is a sensation too far for artist Ayres". The Independent. London. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  14. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59808. p. 7. 11 June 2011.
  15. "Main list of the 2011 Queen's birthday honours recipients" (PDF). BBC News UK. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  16. Meek, James. "Art to Ashes". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  17. 1 2 Valerie Grove (2010-01-30). "At age 80, the painter Gillian Ayres is just hitting her stride". The Times. London.

Further reading

External links

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