Gillian Ayres (1930 - 2018) was one of the leading abstract painters of her generation. Whilst attending St Paul's Girls' School, London, she taught art at weekends to the children of blitzed Stepney. In 1946, at the age of sixteen, she enrolled at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. Ayres exhibited with Young Contemporaries in 1949 and with the London Group in 1951. Her first solo show was at Gallery One, London, in 1956. The following year she was commissioned to create a large-scale mural for South Hampstead High School for Girls. In 1963 her paintings were included in the Whitechapel Art Gallery's ground-breaking exhibition British Painting in the 60s. As well as the vibrant, heavily worked canvases for which she is best known, she was also a dedicated printmaker.
The first prints by Ayres published by Alan Cristea were a group of three etchings made in 1998. Ayres went on to create ever increasingly ambitious prints in a variety of techniques including etching, woodcut and monoprint. She also developed new methods, working with carborundum and hand-painting at either end of the printing process. In the late 2000's Ayres began to work with woodblock, delicately layering inked woodblocks onto textured Japanese paper. Ayres' devotion to making original prints was unremitting, and increased with every year that passed, culminating in a large body of graphic work in her final years which rivalled the magnitude and vividness of her abstract paintings.
Major solo exhibitions of Ayres' work have taken place at CAFA Art Museum, Beijing (2017); National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (2017); Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2010); Southampton City Art Gallery (2005); Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997); Manchester City Art Gallery (1993); Serpentine Gallery, London (1983); Museum of Modern Art Oxford (1981); Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (1978) and Arnolfini, Bristol (1964).
Ayres held a number teaching posts in various art schools, including Bath Academy of Art, Corsham; St Martin's School of Art, London, and Winchester School of Art. She left teaching in 1981, and moved to an old rectory in North Wales to become a full-time painter. In 1987 she relocated to the North Devon-Cornwall border where she remained for the rest of her life. In 1989 she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, and in 1991 was elected Royal Academician. Ayres was appointed a CBE in 2011.
Her paintings and prints are held by major museums and galleries around the world including Tate, London; British Museum, London; Arts Council, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Ulster Museum, Belfast; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Art, Boston; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Museum of Modern Art, Brasilia.
Gillian Ayres died aged 88 in April 2018, in North Devon, England.