Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres, Sundark Blues, 1994, Two panels 8'h x 7'w


I've been seeing lots of articles about the current Helen Frankenthaler exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York, and that got me thinking about the great women abstractionists of the late 20th century. Of course, Joan Mitchell comes to mind. Then I remembered the British painter Gillian Ayres, whose work my wife and I saw at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven back in 1997. I'll never forget my initial impression, which was that of the smell of oil paint. Her works are huge and the layers of paint are thick, so they must take eons to dry. I guess the paintings were still alive, rather like a wheel of cheese. Or not. I also remember thinking how wonderful white paint is in the company of bold colors. I think her work might qualify as action painting, which doesn't mean that a painting is created in a quick burst of action but rather that the act or process of painting is evident in the brushwork and layering. (De Kooning was famed as an action painter, but although his abstractions look like they were spontaneous, they were slowly created and composed.) It's really something to see large paintings in person. One becomes immersed in the color and energy and composition of a piece. Also showing at the Yale Museum at that same time was was an exhibition of William Blake's work. My analysis is this: Blake was one trippy dude.


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