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Born on this day
Elizabeth Blackwell
6th week in year
3 February 2020

Important personalitiesBack

Gillian Ayres3.2.1930

Wikipedia (18 Feb 2013)
Gillian Ayres, CBE (born 3 February 1930) is an English painter.

Early life and career

Ayres was born on 3 February 1930 in Barnes, London, the youngest of three sisters. Ayres started school when she was six. Her parents, a prosperous couple, sent her to Ibstock, a progressive school in Roehampton run on Fröbel principals. 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. She passed the entrance exam for St Paul's Girls' School the following year. Ayres left school in order to study art as soon as she was able. 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.

Ayres worked part time at the AIA Gallery in Soho from 1951 to 1959 before starting a teaching career. 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. She was a senior lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art, London, from 1965 to 1978 and became head of painting at Winchester School of Art in 1978. 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. She moved again in 1987 to a 15th-century cottage at Morwenstow on the Devon-Cornwall border.


Her first solo exhibition was held at Gallery One, London in 1956. 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.

Ayres was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1986, and in 1991 became a Royal Academician. 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. The documentary, according to Ayres, presented an unfair view of the older members of the Academy. Ayres also objected to the inclusion of Marcus Harvey's portrait of the killer Myra Hindley in the exhibition. She is represented by the Alan Cristea Gallery, London.

She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours.

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