This spring sees the opening of one of the most significant and important exhibitions in the Burton Art Gallery and Museum’s history: New Works and Woodcuts by Gillian Ayres RA.

One of Britain’s most eminent abstract painters, at the age of 84, Ayres continues to produce a considerable body of work each year. As well as the vibrant, heavily worked canvases for which she is best known, she is also a dedicated printmaker. This exhibition draws on both these techniques and combines new paintings, made especially for the exhibition at The Burton, alongside a series of woodcuts.

Ayres is renowned for her abstract forms and her own clear and distinct visual language. Many of the new paintings are reminiscent of the shapes and colours of flora and fauna overlain with an endeavour to order and organise these organic forms. The works display the energy and vibrant palette for which Ayres is celebrated, radiating the confidence of a painter at the height of her powers. The woodcuts that Ayres has produced are named after famous gardens, including Tivoli and Heligan, and the garden that she created from scratch, some 23 years ago and which surrounds her studio in North Devon, has long been an inspiration to her.

‘My paintings are about painting, about shape and colour, not telling stories.’ Gillian Ayres

Celebrated as an artist, Gillian Ayres has also had a significant input on a future generation of artists teaching at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, until 1965 followed by St Martin’s School of Art, London from 1965 to 1978 and in 1978 she became Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art where she remained until 1981.

Among Ayres’s many awards are the Japan International Art Promotion Association Award (1963); Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary (1975); Arts Council of Great Britain purchase award (1979); Second Prize, John Moores Biennale, Liverpool (1982); the Blackstone Prize, Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (1988); Charles Wollaston Award, Royal Academy of Arts (1989); and Prize Winner, Gold Medal, Seventh Triennale – India, British Council (1991).

In 1991 Ayres was recognised by her peers and elected Royal Academician (ARA 1982). She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989 and made a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, London (1996) followed by a Sargent Fellowship from The British School At Rome in 1997.

Ayres has also been acknowledged outside of the art world and in 1986 was awarded an OBE, made an Honorary Doctor of English Literature by London University (1994) and in 2011 she was awarded a CBE for services to the arts.

Her work is represented in major public collections including the Arts Council of Great Britain; the British Council; the British Museum; the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; the Museum of Modern Art, Brasilia; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate, London; the Ulster Museum, Belfast; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; and the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

‘She may live in a cold climate but her work envelops her and her audience in warmth. She basks in the heat generated by the intense colour of her paintings and she invites the viewer to share the pleasure. She celebrates colour everyday of her working life, because colour generates heat and light and movement. She does not depict the environment but she evokes her emotions towards it with every colour she applies from her paintbrush or fingertips.’ Alan Cristea, taken from the catalogue, Gillian Ayres Prints 1998-1999.

Gillian Ayres is represented by The Alan Cristea Gallery and works from this exhibition will be for sale. This exhibition is produced in partnership with the Alan Cristea Gallery.

Warren Collum, Exhibitions and Collections Officer at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum said ‘The last 18 months have seen staff at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum excited at the prospect of the 2014 programme. The feeling is that this season’s exhibitions programme is one of the best yet as alongside the staunch favourites sit exhibitions of international significance. The opportunity to work so directly with an acclaimed artist such as Gillian Ayres as well as the Alan Cristea Gallery and to show works that have never before been seen, has been a privilege and a real feather in the Burton’s cap.’

Burton Art Gallery and Museum
Kingsley Road, Bideford
Devon EX39 2QQ United Kingdom
Ph. +44 (0)12 37471455

Opening hours
Monday - Saturday from 10am to 4pm
Saturday from 10am to 4pm
Sunday from 11am to 4pm

Related images

  • 1. & 3. Gillian Ayres RA, Xanadu (detail), 2013, Woodcut on Unryu-shi Japanese paper, Edition of 18, © Gillian Ayres RA. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery
  • 2. Gillian Ayres RA, Heligan 1, 2011, Woodcut in 16 colours from 2 ash veneered blocks on Unryu-shi Japanese paper 75gms, Edition of 18, © Gillian Ayres RA. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery