Gillian 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.
One of Ayres' early projects was a 1957 commission by architect Michael Greenwood to decorate the South Hampstead high school dining hall in north London. The murals, described as "the only true British contribution to American abstract expressionism", were quickly covered over with wallpaper before being rediscovered in 1983 in nearly perfect condition.
The titles of her paintings, such as Anthony and Cleopatra (1982), A Midsummer Night (1990) and Gyre and Gimble (2013), were 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 a dedicated printmaker, making prints with Jack Shirreff in Wiltshire, and in her later life with Peter Kosowicz at Thumbprint Editions, London. Ayres made her first print project, a group of three etchings, with the Alan Cristea Gallery in 1998. The Alan Cristea Gallery went on to present her works in seven solo exhibitions at the gallery, and numerous group exhibitions, and at art fairs around the world. Several of her solo exhibitions toured to institutes in the UK, and the gallery worked in partnership with institutions and museums, including Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2010), the National Museum Cardiff, Wales (2017) and CAFA Art Museum, Beijing (2017) to bring Ayres’ work to wider audiences through major exhibitions of her paintings, drawings and prints.
Ayres had a number of solo exhibitions, the first at Gallery One, London, in 1956. Since 1980 she has been featured in over 25 solo exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (1981); Serpentine Gallery, London (1983); Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997); Southampton City Art Gallery (2005); Jerwood Gallery (2010); National Museum Wales, Cardiff (2017) and CAFA Art Museum, Beijing (2017). Her art is also featured in the collections of numerous galleries, including Tate Gallery, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Ayres was awarded the Japan International Art Promotion Association Award in 1963, and in 1975 she was awarded a bursary by the Arts Council of Great Britain. In 1982 she was named runner up for the John Moores Painting Prize and shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989.
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Gooding, Mel; Gillian Ayres (September 2001). Gillian Ayres. Lund Humphries Publishers. ISBN 978-0-85331-809-5.
Gillian Ayres. Art / Books, London. 2017. ISBN 978-1-908970-30-5.