Gillian Ayres studied at Camberwell School of Art, London from 1946 to 1950. She supported her painting practice by working part-time at the AIA Gallery from 1951 to 1959, and went on to teach at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, until 1965. She then taught at St Martin’s School of Art, London from 1965 to 1978 and in 1978 became Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art where she remained until 1981.
Ayres first exhibited in Young Contemporaries in 1949, and with the London Group in 1951. Her first solo exhibition was at Gallery One, London in 1956. Exhibitions of her work have since been held regularly throughout Europe, including the Kara Benson Gallery, Oslo (1957), the Molton Gallery, London (1960, 1962), Kasmin Gallery, London (1965, 1966, 1969) and Galeria Alvarez, Porto, Portugal (1977). Ayres exhibited regularly with the Knoedler Gallery in London and New York from 1979, and in 1983 a retrospective of her work was held at the Serpentine Gallery, London, touring to Barnsley, Penzance, Nottingham and Llandudno. More recently she has had solo shows at the Tate Gallery (1995) and the RA (1997), along with exhibitions at London’s Gimpel Fils and Alan Cristea galleries.
Ayres won awards including 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 of Arts (1988; 1990); Charles Wollaston Award, Royal Academy of Arts (1989); and Prize Winner, Gold Medal, Seventh Triennale – India, British Council (1991).
Ayres was awarded an OBE in 1986 and elected as a Royal Academician in 1991. She was made an Honorary Doctor of English Literature by London University (1994), a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, London (1996) and received a Sargent Fellowship from The British School At Rome in 1997. London’s University of the Arts made her an Honorary Fellow in 2005. Gillian Ayres lived and worked in Cornwall and London until her death in 2018, aged 88.