Gillian Ayres 1930 – 2018

Gillian Ayres Rhodoila (2015) Woodcut edition of 25

Gillian Ayres Rhodoila (2015) Woodcut edition of 25 - Credit: Archant

Cornwall-based painter and print maker Gillian Ayres passed away 11 April 2018, aged 88, peacefully in hospital in North Devon. We look back at the feature we covered on her exhibition in Cornwall from our May issue 2017

Gillian Ayres is no contemporary art world ingénue straight out of graduate ranks, she is a Royal Academician who has also been awarded with an OBE and then a CBE, she is 87 and is still creating art and what art it is.

In this latest show, curated by the Alan Christea Gallery London, at Tremenheere Sculpture Park’s wonderful new art gallery, Ayres fantastically life-affirming works radiate an effervescent beauty in a light infused space in the warm spring sunshine.

For me, as an EU referendum remainer, living in a time of dire political uncertainty, Gillian Ayres vividly enlivening artworks were a true tonic for the soul. It was wondrous to gaze upon such beauty and sheer joie de vivre in such neglectful times. And all by a member of the much-maligned older genereation. Ayres makes art with the dexterity of an artist in full control of their formidable powers. How magnificent that someone should still believe in the genius of creativity so far into their life, but then, as they say, great artists don’t retire; they just expire.

That Ayres is a British female artist also pays testament to a steely determination and self belief; she simply couldn’t have survived without it. During much of the 20th century, being British and being female was certainly no short cut to art world success. I still believe artists such as Ayres, and even the peerless Barbara Hepworth and my own personal heroine Margaret Tait, are shockingly underrated.

The works in this exhibition must be viewed in the raw, no reproduction will ever do them true justice. The Japanese unryuishi paper has a specific underlying texture which the woodcuts are printed onto and as such even the blank background remains a unique feature of the piece.

My initial mind-slip upon viewing the works were Matisse’s cut-outs, with their joyous shapes of stars and plant life, seas and shores. Ayre’s prints have the feeling of the best of summer days, meadows and plants, flowers and sunshine, bright skies and shimmering shorelines. These are abstracted landscapes, they are a feeling, a sensation towards the source, they evoke place and season, they are Cornwall, but tropically defined. While photographing Tremenheere Sculpture Park the week before, I was hypnotised by the phosphorescent, acid light on the greens of the tropical planting, reminding me of Vittorio Storaro’s hallucinogenic cinematography in the Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now.

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Ayre’s art is a pleasurable cohesion of visual delights conveyed in a buoyancy of a candy coloured palette with: yellows, greens, blues, reds, purples, oranges and how many possible shades of pink can there be? The perspective in these works maybe flattened, but they have an extraordinary dynamic visual range, with form, colour and texture colliding in imagistic fireworks; the eye flickers, darts, settles and immerses itself in their immeasurable pleasure.

In reviewing great art you’re always tempted to purchase a work, but as the old drug dealing adage goes, ‘Don’t get high on your own supply!’