Thursday, April 16, 2015

Speaking of Colour

“I just like painting; I wouldn’t know what to do without it.
Gillian Ayres

In a 1995 interview with The Independent Newspaper’s Fiammetta Rocco, the British abstract artist Gillian Ayres said, "All the painting I've liked has always been colour painting. I've found that I respond to colour more than anything. Do you know that every artist has their own colour? If I name artists, I start spinning out their colour in my mind. If I think of Matisse, I'm going to think of red or emerald green. I'm going to think of those pinks and lemon yellows. But if you said Kandinsky, I'm going to think of more beetroot red and yellows. And if you said Pollock, I'd say black and white. Black and white can certainly be colour too."

Ayres decided to become a painter at the age of 13 after seeing a book featuring the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Monet. As she told Martin Gayford in 2010, ‘The four who set me off were really bloody good, they really were. My God! What they could do with painting!” And by the age of 16 she was enrolled at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. As she said 'I ran away from school when I was 16. I insisted on going to art school. There was a great fuss about it from my parents, who were perfectly supportive people, just not in the art world.’

But the teenage Ayers’ will prevailed and she spent the best part of the next three years under the influence of the Euston Road painting style. With her preference for a dialogue between colours the drab gray formalism of the school rankled and Ayres left for Paris a month before completing the course and taking her final exams. As she explained to the College Magazine, “I thought exams were bourgeois, that they didn’t have anything to do with art.  The terrible thing about that” she added “is that later I became head of painting, and an external examiner but deep down I don’t really like what I used to do, because you’re examining people at 20, but they can take off when they are 30 or 40.”

For more than 20 years Ayres earned her livelihood from teaching. At the age of 51 she was sacked from the Winchester School of Art, where she was head of painting, due to cuts in the schools funding. Which in retrospect she mused They heaved me out at a good time. Now I'd say, `Thank you'."
Since 1956 hardly a year has gone by when Ayres isn’t exhibiting somewhere in Britain. Having been able to devote her time exclusively to her art she has come to earn the accolade of the Grande Dame of British art, painting during the summer and working on her prints during the colder months.

As she says, “I don't see why you shouldn't be filling yourself up, making yourself happy. Enjoying yourself. Feasting on beauty. I want an art that's going to make me feel heady, in a high-flown way. I love the idea of that. I'd use the word spiritual. I'm not frightened of all that."

Her latest exhibition  is currently on show at both of Alan Cristea’s London Galleries until the 30th of May.

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