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.
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.
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.