artnet Asks: Abstract Painter Gillian Ayres

Ayres is one of the leading British abstract painters of her generation.

Photo: courtesy of Debbie Rowe Photography

Born in Barnes, London in 1930, Gillian Ayres attended Camberwell College of Art between 1945 and 1950 before going on to a successful career as an abstract painter and teacher at schools including Winchester School of Art and Central Saint Martin’s School of Art. Ayres has worked on vinyl and canvas, and is also a dedicated printmaker with published woodcut prints. She is best known for her signature style of abstraction on canvas with heavily layered and vibrant sections of pigmented oil paint. She is considered one of the leading British abstract painters of her generation, and has exhibited internationally including at the Victoria and Albert Museum and MoMA.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
From a very early age all I wanted to do was paint and draw—when I was 13. I think the desire has always been there, and just gets stronger as one gets older. I don’t feel any different inside to how I did when I was 13. Creativity increases all one’s life and you can never have enough. Your art does change over the years—you’re still trying to find out things. I know that I won’t be here in another 85 years, which I think increases the pressure, but I just carry on. I’ve always just wanted to paint and work, and that is still the case. More so now than ever before.

Gillian Ayres, Hazy Shade of Winter (1998-99) Oil on canvas 96 x 96 in. Photo: courtesy of the artist and the Alan Cristae Gallery.

Gillian Ayres, Hazy Shade of Winter (1998–1999)
Oil on canvas 96 x 96 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and the Alan Cristea Gallery.

What inspires you?
There are many artists whose work I admire—Miro and Picasso especially—but really too many to list. Ultimately though, although I may admire an artists’ work, theirs doesn’t directly influence my own. I live and work surrounded by nature, and, in some way I suppose, that filters into the work, although not in a figurative way. The paintings are not a direct response to any particular moment or subject, and I don’t expect people to all have the same feeling when looking at them. Like looking at art, what inspires one is very personal, and sometimes one doesn’t know or doesn’t want to reveal where it comes from.

Gillian Ayres, Shalimar 3 (2011) Gouache on paper 22.4 x 30.9 in. Photo: courtesy of the artist and the Alan Cristae Gallery.

Gillian Ayres, Shalimar 3 (2011)
Gouache on paper 22.4 x 30.9 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and the Alan Cristea Gallery.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?
Impossible to say really—a Brancusi, a Picasso, or a Matisse would be lovely. In some ways, looking is just as important as owning, and I feel very fortunate to have seen so many wonderful things in my life. I clearly remember seeing The Red Studio by Matisse hanging in the Redfern Gallery in London when I was much younger and being exhilarated by it. It’s now in MoMA in New York, but it would have been nice to have been able to have bought that!

Gillian Ayres, Ground (1998) Oil on canvas diptych 84.1 x 72.2 in. (each) Photo: courtesy of the artist and the Alan Cristae Gallery.

Gillian Ayres, Ground (1998)
Oil on canvas diptych 84.1 x 72.2 in. (each)
Photo courtesy of the artist and the Alan Cristea Gallery.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a new group of paintings for my show at Alan Cristea Gallery. It is next April, and will be a new body of paintings alongside some of my recent etchings and woodcuts. I tend to paint in the summer when the light is good and the weather is warm, and I prefer to be in the printing studio in the winter. My work is always evolving, and these new works are different from my previous group—I find that change happens without me really understanding why, and there is an excitement and a nervousness about how they will be received.

When not making art, what do you like to do? 
I’m happiest when I am in the studio. To some extent, everything I do also filters into making art. I cannot simply detach from it—it’s always there, whatever I am doing…

 

Gillian Ayres’s exhibition will be at Alan Cristea Gallery, 31 & 34 Cork Street, London between April  16–May 30, 2015.

 


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