Alan Wheatley Art

Gillian Ayres Artist Biography  British, 1930-2014

One of the most widely loved and respected of contemporary British Artists, Gillian Ayres decided to become a painter at the age of fourteen, and studied at Camberwell School of Art from 1946-50, before running the AIA Gallery with painter Henry Mundy whom she married. As a young artist in the 1950's, Ayres was closely involved with leading British abstract artists including Roger Hilton.
Ayres was quick to respond to European tachism and American abstract expressionism, creating a body of work that placed her in the forefront of her generation. In the sixties she was the only woman artist to be represented in the important 'Situation' exhibitions, showing large paintings combining oil and paint that aimed for the sublime using very radial drip and pour techniques of action painting.
Gillian Ayres defined her career by ranges of style and manner. In the sixties she created glamorous and decorative images in keeping with the hedonistic mood of that time. In the seventies Hans Hofmann inspired Ayres and returned back to an extreme and painterly extraction. Later in that decade Ayres moved back to oil painting and went on to develop her exclusive colourful style and has made an impressive mark on British art.

Ayres first exhibited with 'Young Contempories' in 1949 and with the London Group in 1951. Her first solo exhibition was at Gallery One, London in 1956. Subsequent solo shows were held regularly throughout Europe, including the Kara Benson Gallery, Oslo (1957), the Molton Gallery, London (1960, 1962), Kasmin Gallery, London (1965, 1966, 1969) and Galeria Alvarez, Porto, Portugal (1977). Ayres went on to have several exhibitions with the Knoedler Gallery in London and New York from 1979, and a retrospective of her work was held at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 1983. The retrospective toured to Barnsley, Penzance, Nottingham and Llandudno. More recently she has had solo shows at the Tate Gallery, London (1995) and at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997). She continues to exhibit regularly at Gimpel Fils, London and at the Alan Cristea Gallery, London.

Among Ayres’s many awards are the Japan International Art Promotion Association Award (1963); Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary (1975); Arts Council of Great Britain purchase award (1979); Second Prize, John Moores Biennale, Liverpool (1982); the Blackstone Prize, Royal Academy of Arts (1988; 1990); Charles Wollaston Award, Royal Academy of Arts (1989); and Prize Winner, Gold Medal, Seventh Triennale – India, British Council (1991).

Gillian Ayres was awarded an OBE in 1986 and was elected Royal Academician in 1991 (ARA 1982). She was made an Honorary Doctor of English Literature by London University (1994), a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, London (1996) and received a Sargent Fellowship from The British School At Rome in 1997.

Public collections include:
Arts Council of Great Britain
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Art Gallery of South Australia
Birmingham City Art Gallery
Bolton Art Gallery
British Council, New Delhi, India
British Museum Contemporary Art Society, London
Glasgow Art Gallery & Museum Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne
Leeds City Art Gallery
London Borough of Camden
Manchester City Art Gallery
Museum of Modern Art, Brasilia
Museum of Modern Art, New York , USA
Olinda Museum, Sao Paulo, Brasil
Rochdale City Art Gallery
Southampton City Art Gallery
Swindon City Art Gallery
Tate, London
Ulster Museum, Belfast
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA


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