News / Art

British abstract artist Gillian Ayres has died aged 88

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Gillian Ayres. Courtesy of RA

British abstract painter and printmaker Gillian Ayres has died aged 88. Ayres was nominated for the Turner prize in 1989, and has been one of the UK’s most respected contemporary artists since the 1950s. She is known for her vast and vivid improvised painted canvases, which in her early career were inspired by Jackson Pollock.

Born in London in 1930, Ayres landed a place at Camberwell School of Art aged 16, and befriended Howard Hodgkin, who remained a friend in later life. Her peers included Terry Frost, Adrian Heath, and Henry Mundy (who became her husband in 1951), fellow subscribers to abstract art, and together they formed a core of the British abstract movement of the 50s. She was the only woman to feature in the Situation exhibition at the RBA Galleries in 1960, an important group show in abstract painting.

She began teaching in the 60s and in 1978 became the first woman to run a fine art department in a British art school, as head of painting at Winchester. Meanwhile her painting was eventually widely celebrated in the early 80s, when she exhibited at the Hayward Annual, had a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, and a retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery. She became a Royal Academician in 1982 and was appointed OBE in 1986, ahead of her Turner prize nomination. The RA hosted a retrospective of her work in 1997, and she was appointed CBE in 2011. Until her death, she lived and worked in Cornwall and London.

Alan Cristea Gallery, which regularly exhibited Ayres’ work in recent decades, tweeted on 11 April: “It is with great sadness that we report the death earlier today of Gillian Ayres peacefully in hospital in North Devon. Our thoughts are with Gillian’s family and friends.”

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Gillian Ayres. Courtesy of RA

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Gillian Ayres. Courtesy of RA