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Gillian AYRES 

1930 -2018


Abstract c.1957


ripolin on board

32.7 by 10.7cm

framed: 45.2 x 22 cm


signed lower right 'G. Ayres'


Private Collection, Oslo


Kara Benson Gallery, Oslo 1957 (?) (catalogue untraced)



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Gillian Ayres was one of a few trailblazing female artists woking in London in the 1950s and is now widely acknowledged as one of Britain's foremost abstract painters.


Although not dated the work can be securely dated to late 1956 early 1957. It is a one of a small group of rare early works that first brought Ayres to the public attention and established her as one of the most dynamic artists of her generation. In 1957 she held her first exhibition abroad at the Kara Benson Gallery in Oslo before she went on to exhibit in the seminal "Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract" exhibition held at the Redfern Gallery later in the year. This work no doubt was in that Kara Benson show having remained in a private collection in Oslo until 2020.


Painted in oil, ripolin and plaster the work is from the same series as those that she later exhibited at "Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract" and is very close in palette as her famous 'Painting (Taschiste) No.1' (illustrated left - Gillian Ayres photographed in front of the work in 1957). In fact the palette is so similar it is not unreasonable to suggest they were painted on the same day. It was a groundbreaking year for her as she moved away from the more formal linear abstractions and developed her tachiste style of drip and bleeding the paints in to compositions that she would later say "would paint themselves."


Interestingly the present work is mounted on canvas laid board which is a scrap from of another one of her 1957 tachiste works - close to the work sold at Christies 21/10/21 lot 105. The width dimensions are very close, as are the colours, so it could even be the sliced off base of that work.


A major retrospective of her early work was held at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings in 2012 and was a revelation. Her estate is now represented by Marlborough, who currently have an exhibition of her later work.


Gillian Ayres in her studio 1957 in front of 'Tachiste No1'

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“I wanted the colour to speak, to resonate, to dictate the shapes, the mood, the tone…everything. I guess that’s why I feel in love with the purely visual experience of abstraction.”
Gillian Ayres on her works from the ’50s, Sunday Times Magazine

Whilst attending St Paul's Girls' School, London, Ayres 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. 


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.

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