Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres with canvases, photographed by Roger Mayne.
Gillian Ayres with canvases, photographed by Roger Mayne. © Roger Mayne. Courtesy The Roger Mayne Archive. Image not licensed for reuse.


Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres was a painter and printmaker famous for her large, abstract canvases and dramatic use of colour. Her works are included in major collections held by galleries and museums around the world. Ayres was also a dedicated teacher, and was the first woman to run a fine art department at a British art school.

In the 1950s Gillian Ayres worked at AIA Gallery in London with her then husband, Henry Mundy. She went on to teach at Bath Academy of Art at Corsham (1959 – 1965), St Martin’s School of Art (1966 – 1978), and Winchester School of Art (1978 – 1981) where she was Head of Painting.

Ayres first solo exhibition was in 1956 at London’s Gallery One, run by Victor Musgrave. Read about this gallery on Voices of art and hear audio extracts as speakers recorded for Artists’ Lives recall the atmosphere there.

Ayres went on to have many solo exhibitions. In the 1960s she was represented by the Kasmin Gallery. When Kasmin closed his Bond Street space in 1972 and began operating from smaller premises, the large scale work Ayres was making at the time made it impractical for her to continue exhibiting with him. Hear Ayres musing on whether she made the right decision on Voices of art.

Gillian Ayres was elected Royal Academician in 1991and appointed a CBE in 2011. Between 1999 and 2000 Gillian Ayres was interviewed by Mel Gooding for Artists’ Lives. Her life story interview can be heard on the BL Sounds website. A written summary is available on the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Biography and education

Gillian Ayres was born on 3 February 1930 in London, and grew up in Barnes. She attended St Paul’s Girls School in London before studying at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts from 1946 – 1950.

Gillian Ayres died on 11 April 2018 in Devon, aged 88.

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