Gillian Ayres

An exhibition celebrating her extraordinary paintings and the period she spent living on the llyn Peninsula in the 1980's 

Image: Dance of the Ludi Magni 1984, Gillian Ayres

Opened by David Cleaton-Roberts from Alan Cristea Gallery, London, in the company of Gillian's sons, Jim Mundy and Sam Mundy. 

This Autumn Plas Glyn-y-Weddw hosts a very special exhibition of work by Gillian Ayres, one the most important and original abstract artists in Britain. Known for her large, heavily textured canvases Ayres lived at Llaniestyn on the Llŷn Peninsula in the 1980s, a period that was to see her produce a mass of vibrant work and we are delighted to be able to give some of her most iconic paintings a ‘homecoming’.

Born in London in 1930 Ayres realised she wanted to be a painter at an early age on discovering books on painters such as Van Goch, Gaugin, Cézanne and Monet in her school’s library. During the war she would cycle to the National Gallery where one picture a month was displayed - she was attracted to painting and it determined her life’s quest.

Ayres studied at Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts and by the mid 1950’s she became a pioneer of abstract painting in Britain, creating a body of work that would place her at the forefront of her generation. The ambitious scale of her paintings and their bold handling of paint enveloped the viewer in a powerful exploration of colour and space. She would apply oils and household paint, instinctively pouring, dripping and staining paint on to board.

In the early 1950s Ayres started travelling regularly to north Wales, where her sister had a cottage at Corris, and became obsessed with walking in the mountains of Snowdonia, especially Cader Idris. Although not representations of landscape, paintings such as Cwm, 1959, suggest a response to the power and processes of nature and Ayres herself admits that exposure to the mountains of Wales may have encouraged her to ‘see the world like painting’.

Having spent many years teaching Ayres decided to move to Wales and paint full time in the early 1980s, settling in Llaniestyn on the Llŷn Peninsula. Breaking free from the trappings of teaching and the London art world gave Ayres a freedom she had never previously experienced, and this release can be felt in the paintings from this period such as Ace and The Dance of the Ludi Magni, from 1984. Enormous canvases were thickly painted, with the surface manipulated into gestures and patterns using brush, fingers, and paint squeezed directly from the tube. The texture became just as much a vital component of the work as colour.

The old rectory house at Llaniestyn would often be busy with other artists and curators visiting, especially during the summer and in her own words living in Wales felt ‘like being on an everlasting holiday’ with almost daily excursions to one of the many Llŷn beaches with her beloved dogs.

When Ayres’ youngest son Sam, who had attended Ysgol Botwnnog, left to study in London in 1987 the large house and garden at Llaniestyn suddenly felt quiet and burdensome so she moved to a smaller house in rural north Devon where she continues to live and work, surrounded by her beautiful garden.

Cinnibar, 1989 completes the quartet of Ayres’ extraordinary paintings that can be seen at Plas Glyn-y-Weddw until Dec 17th – don’t miss them! In addition to the large-scale canvases she is also a dedicated printmaker and some of her most recent woodcut prints can be seen in the ap Tomos gallery and are available to purchase.

Two short films, prepared by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, on the work of Ayres and the period she spent in Llŷn are also featured in the exhibition as well as a selection of catalogs and books. A recent comprehensive full colour publication on Ayres’ life and career by Art/Books is available in the gallery shop.

The exhibition at Plas Glyn-y-Weddw has been made possible with generous assistance from Gillian Ayres and her family, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, Cardiff and Alan Cristea Gallery, London and is supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Gwynedd Council.