Visual Arts: Another time, another place
Gillian Ayres Royal Academy, London
Friday 07 February 1997
What happened, one wonders, turning from this first picture to face a room of huge canvases thick with paint and clamouring with colour? The answer is on the opposite wall in a painting called Cumuli from 1959. In one word: America. In two: Abstract Expressionism. At some point in the late Fifties, Ayres saw photographs of Jackson Pollock dripping and pouring his paints on to a canvas on the floor and the freedom of what he was doing struck a chord.
Freedom and the expressive qualities of paint and colour for their own sake have been constants in her work ever since. In the Seventies, she heaped thick sweeps and curls of paint on to the canvas, its surface literally swelling with the stuff like a painting in the early stages of pregnancy. By the early Eighties, she had begun to use fewer layers, but the covering across the canvas remained as dense as ever and increasingly untethered. Blues slither into whites and greens and splodges of yellow are smudged with red and pink and orange in a kind of multi-coloured jungle.
I have to admit that I am not a fan of this sort of painting, although I cannot but admire the energy that Ayres brings to her task. One gets the feeling from these pictures that she must be very likeable: bright and cheery, obviously, but also generous. She is the sort of person (according to her friend Alexandra Pringle, who has written a note in the catalogue) who takes her chickens to the vet.
She was also, by all accounts, a generous and inspiring teacher, first at Corsham (where Howard Hodgkin, England's greatest living colourist, was also on the staff), then St Martins, and finally at Winchester where she gained the distinction of being the first ever woman to head the painting department of an English art school. The Hodgkin connection goes deeper than a few years teaching together and their brief overlap as students at Camberwell. He is a more subtle painter, a master of mood and memory, but there are moments when her pictures work in a similar way, especially with titles (such as Suddenly Last Summer) that seem to hark to another time and place.
Like Hodgkin, Ayres is keen on India and although her paintings are always abstract (in that they are not of or about anything), they often seem steeped in the heat and noise of foreign worlds. Occasionally, half-familiar shapes suggest a vague sort of reality. In Sucked Up Sunslips, it is flowers on a window sill, in Flighted Ones it is a kind of fruit salad made with weird new species of fruit: a riot of red and pinks and orange. The absence of taste is spectacular and very cheering, or as Ayres puts it in the opening line of the catalogue: "Why should painting be a bloody misery?" To 2 Mar. Booking: 0171-439 7438
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rowan Atkinson to sell £10 million McLaren 'supercar' he crashed into a tree and a lamppost
- 2 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 3 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Pixie Geldof signs recording deal with Stranger Records
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners