Abstract Critical

Gillian Ayres in Exeter

Written by Patrick Jones

Gillian Ayres, Tivoli, 2011, Woodcut on Unryu-shi Japanese paper. Paper 93.0 x 107.2 cm / Image 75.8 x 91.0 cm, Edition of 30

Gillian Ayres, Tivoli, 2011, Woodcut on Unryu-shi Japanese paper. Paper 93.0 x 107.2 cm / Image 75.8 x 91.0 cm, Edition of 30

The Gillian Ayres show at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter is a joy to behold. The show concentrates on her adventures as a maker of prints and is orchestrated by her London gallery, Alan Cristea. The museum won a huge lottery grant and the gallery she is showing in is a big white cube, with the 45 works hung from floor to ceiling. This enhances the colour and the show sings, like entering a warm bath of visual beauty.

Gillian Ayres, Heligan 1, 2011. Woodcut in 16 colours from 2 ash veneered blocks on Japanese Unryu-shi 75gsm paper. Paper 78.0 x 116.0 cm / Image 61.0 x 100.0 cm Edition of 18

Gillian Ayres, Heligan 1, 2011. Woodcut in 16 colours from 2 ash veneered blocks on Japanese Unryu-shi 75gsm paper. Paper 78.0 x 116.0 cm / Image 61.0 x 100.0 cm. Edition of 18

As a painter, I have my own obsessions, which inform my looking. There is a wall of five new small to medium sized oil paintings, which, despite the impasto, I find too tight, like new shoes. Yet it is obvious the decorative, almost Egyptian shapes and bright flat colour have been her obsession for some time now, as they are everywhere in the prints.

Gillian Ayres, Boboli, 2011, Woodcut on Unryu-shi Japanese paper. Paper 45.0 x 56.0 cm / Image 30.0 x 42.0 cm. Edition of 50

Gillian Ayres, Boboli, 2011, Woodcut on Unryu-shi Japanese paper. Paper 45.0 x 56.0 cm / Image 30.0 x 42.0 cm. Edition of 50

The exhibition marks her collaboration with Jack Sherriff, a master of the big print. The carborundum process breaks open the marks, and with an array of stained borders, the prints remain aerated, flooded with oxygen. The stained borders also work with finger marks around the edges of the images to soften their relation to the paper ground. This prevents the tightness which is evident in several works where hand-painting has made the surface too heavy, especially where the work is rectangular. The tondos are almost all terrific, as they allow the shapes a freer relation to the curved edge. There are some real gems in the show and I particularly liked the Japanese paper woodcuts. The flat shapes are there, but they butt together without causing excessive pressure. I strongly advise seeing this before it finishes on the 15th of September.

I opened my own studio on a farm five miles away and showed my own attempt to circumvent the same pictorial problem. In response to abstract critical’s call for new Abstraction, I had laid into the work, wracking the space to break into new ground. I had to retreat as the acrylic surface displayed a claustrophobic lack of air. Painting in Ireland on a fellowship at Ballinglen, I made some small paintings, without a hard external edge. These produced two larger works on return to the U.K. where drawing took over at the expense of colour and they began to address Robin Greenwood’s need for a more complex spacial experience.

Patrick Jones, Roamin, 2013

Patrick Jones, Roamin, 2013

  1. Patrick Jones said…

    Sharon,I do realise there was a completely different,more imaginative response possible to Gillians imagery ,which I did not attempt.My comments were only related to the surface /breathing qualities of the prints.I did provide a photo of the paintings but to do the work justice ,they need to be of professional quality.The whole show was a real pleasure to see.

  2. Sharon Hall said…

    Upside down umbrella palms and cascading water rills in Tivoli. The lake in the middle of Boboli. I don’t know the lost gardens of Heligan(?), an Italian influence at work here too though. It would have been nice to see some of the paintings reproduced that you mention, Patrick.
    Roamin through the painterly spaces in your own and yes more ‘open’ .

  3. Linda Robinson said…

    The works of Gillian Ayes shown in Exeter are a superb display of colour and interlocking shape. One stands in wonder as the eyes dance round the gallery following these wonderful shapes and colours . Difficult to choose the best , they are all so alive and interesting .