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Gillian Ayres: Trailblazing abstract artist dies at 88

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    Gillian AyresImage copyright Freia Turland
    Image caption Gillian Ayres, pictured in front of two of her works in 2012

    Gillian Ayres, one of Britain’s leading abstract painters of the last 60 years, has died at the age of 88.

    Ayres was at the forefront of the British contemporary art scene from the 1950s, and became known for paintings filled with vibrant shapes and colours.

    She was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1989 and was made a CBE in 2011.

    Agent Alan Cristea said that, as a female abstract artist in the UK, she was “way ahead of her time and the vast majority of her male counterparts”.

    She saw her gender as “an irrelevance” when it came to her art, however, he said.

    “She was immensely courageous, independent and determined in both her art and her lifestyle.”

    Image copyright Mike Hoban
    Image caption “Large doses of champagne and riveting anecdotes delivered through clouds of cigarette smoke”

    Cristea fondly recalled visits to her studio on the the Devon/Cornwall border, which would involve “lavish meals, large doses of champagne and riveting anecdotes delivered through clouds of cigarette smoke”.

    He added: “She was a joy. I loved her to bits and will miss her enormously.”

    Ayres’ first solo show was staged in 1957, and she took part in a number of influential exhibitions in the 1950s and ’60s.

    She went on to have solo shows at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1983, the Tate Gallery in 1995, and the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997.

    Image copyright Getty Images
    Image caption Gillian Ayres in 1962

    She had been elected to the Royal Academy in 1987, and 15 of her works are now in the Tate collection.

    Last year, she had major solo exhibitions at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff and at CAFA Art Museum in Beijing.

    She never painted portraits or landscapes. “Shapes. Spaces. It’s the way I see the world,” she once said.

    “To me, art – colour in art – is wonderfully indulging. I don’t see why you shouldn’t be filling yourself up, making yourself happy. Enjoying yourself. Feasting on beauty.

    “I want an art that’s going to make me feel heady, in a high-flown way. I love the idea of that.”

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