At the end of August I took the afternoon off work and went to immerse myself in art at the National Museum Wales, most specifically an exhibition on Gillian Ayres. Many years ago, 1990 to be exact, I went to see an exhibition of Ayres’ work in Manchester. Having just dug out the poster I bought at the time, I can guess that I went to see this in the Christmas holidays, having just started studying at Cardiff University for a degree in Ancient History. So what attracted me back then? In 1988 I undertook a Foundation in Art & Design at Rochdale Art College, I then hung around for a year, signing on, and doing a “course” in art at the college – essentially spending all my time painting, creating, and hanging around with friends who’d been doing the Foundation over a two year period, and drinking cider & black with them in the local pub. I didn’t get in to Art college on my initial try and instead took a path that was academic rather than art filled. However, I still tried to keep up with painting and drawing, and indulged in visits to art galleries. Although I can’t remember any specifics from that initial exhibition Ayres name stuck with me, and occasionally over the years I must have seen the odd piece of her work elsewhere.
Seeing the latest exhibition in Cardiff reminded me why I had been so impressed back in the 90s that I bought a poster (remember I was just a poverty stricken student at the time!). It is hard to explain why I love Ayres work so much as I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with abstract art in general, mainly I think it is down to her use of colour. Her boldness, her large canvasses and her wonderful use of colour just resonate with me on all sorts of levels. I really enjoyed this exhibition and walked round it three times in the space of my afternoon visit (which doesn’t sound much now, and I wish I had become aware earlier in the year that it was on as I would have made multiple visits).
Billed as a major retrospective of her work I admit I had expected to see more current paintings, instead it featured her greatest works from the 1950s to the 1980s – so I suspect there may have been at least a small crossover with the exhibition I saw in 1990. I left feeling extremely happy, and this time (no longer being a poverty stricken student) I bought the “definitive monograph” published to coincide with the exhibition so that I can indulge in her work (albeit in a small way) at home.