Sailing off the Edge

Sailing off the Edge: Gillian Ayres' Abstract Painting, 1979 to the present
CAFA Art Museum, Beijing
30 July - 27 August 2017

Gillian Ayres comes to CAFA Art Museum Beijing, feted in the west as one of the most important living abstract artists - the 'Jackson Pollock of England', as one recent art critic phrased it. A retrospective devoted to her work continues at the National Museum of Wales until September 2017 and a 400 page monograph on her work has just been published. She has paintings in the collections of major museums including MOMA New York and Tate London, Museum of Modern Art in Brasilia, National Gallery of Australia and British Museum in London; she has exhibited widely from Britain to Europe, from India to the USA. She was shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize in 1989.

This is her first exhibition in China and it comprises a large number of large scale paintings (240cm x 240 cm) from 1979 onwards, borrowed from private collections as well as the artist's own studio. As museums around the world reflect on the importance of artists who are women (look at MOMA's recent show 'Women Artists and Postwar Art'), Sailing Over the Edge: Gillian Ayres' Abstract Painting 1979 to the Present offers China an opportunity to see the complex and sensuous art of a woman who was the first female Head of Painting at a British artschool, the only woman in the most important postwar exhibition of British art, ‘Situation’, 1960 and who has invented and reinvented her art over sixty years.

The exhibition will begin with the erotic sublime paintings of the 1980s - huge paintings where the paint is encrusted, the brushstrokes up to 30 cm long and where the colour determines the form of the paintings. Among her heroes are the Venetian painter Titian and the English painter Turner and these 1980s paintings have the same ambition as that of the great paintings of those earlier masters.

More recently, shapes have begun to appear in her paintings - and they become even more celebratory and joyous. Gillian Ayres herself has said: 'for some time we have gone through a period where people quite like non-beautiful things. I do like beauty, absolutely. Titian, Rubens and Matisse all were in love with beauty. I like the idea that people can lose their feet looking at art - or even at nature. I love the idea that in our life we can be lifted by looking at art. My only regret is that I am not well enough to travel to Beijing and to see China'.

Gillian Ayres lives in the south-west of England, in a house with a large garden which has been very important to her and to her art. It is full of plants from all over the world, not least from Asia. Whilst she does not make representational paintings in any sense, she has said ' in a mad sort of way I see nature like paint and so probably did Turner'.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, with the foreword by the Head of the famous Royal Academy of Arts in London. It will also contain essays by Philip Dodd, the acclaimed curator of Sean Scully: Follow the Heart, named as one of 100 art innovators of 2016 by Art and Auction; by Wang Chunchen, Head of the Department of Curatorial Research of CAFA Art Museum at the Central Academy of Fine Arts China, who has also been a great influence on Chinese contemporary art criticism through his translations of over ten books of art history and theory and by the London-based novelist Elif Shafak, the most popular female novelist in Turkey and a campaigning feminist. She has been awarded Chevalier-des-Lettres by the French government.  There will also be a film with Chinese subtitles showing Gillian Ayres at work, featuring contributions by Colm Toibin, the great Irish novelist, as well as Gillian herself, both when she was young and more recently.

Gillian Ayres' son, Sam Mundy, himself an artist, will be in Beijing for the opening and is available for interview.

Philip Dodd, one of the curators of the exhibition, says: 'From China to the US, women artists are beginning to have the visibility they deserve. So, it is perfect timing to bring Gillian Ayres to CAFA to showcase her exuberant and ecstatic paintings whose abstraction is utterly distinctive - and yet draws on art history from Titian to Hokusai. This is a major exhibition by a major artist'.   Wang Chuchen, co-curator of the exhibition, says that the Gillian Ayres show provides a clear clue for the CAFAM’s research on the international abstract arts and its related exhibition series held in recent years; it reinforces the significance of abstract art in the 20thcentury art history.



Gillian Ayres was born in London in 1930 and went to art school when was 16 years old. In the 1950s she was commissioned to paint a 25m mural in London and since that time has exhibited all over the world. She was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, been shortlisted for the Turner Prize and her work is in the collections of around 50 museums all around the world. She was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 1986, has held fellowships in Rome and in London - and is enjoying at present a major retrospective of her work from the 50s to the present day at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. There are two monographs published on her work, the most recent of which is 400 pages, published to coincide with the retrospective this year.