Featured Artist of the Month Gill Ayre

Written by Caryl Beach

On June 1, 2015

Spring Storm - Gill AyreGill Ayre has been a fellow with Digswell Arts for nearly 5 years at the Forge site in Digswell, and will be moving on to a new studio in August this year.

Gill predominantly makes paintings using oil on canvas. We asked Gill a few questions to find out more:

  1. How would you describe your current practice (e.g. materials, techniques, themes, key questions, approach)?

The inspiration for my work is the landscape and I aim to communicate an emotional and contemplative response, inviting the viewer to stop, to look, to take time. My processes are equally contemplative, employing the use of loose wet oil paint with splashes and drips, allowing a semblance of landscape to emerge out of semi- translucent layers, built up over time, which partially obscure and partially reveal what came before.

However a blank white canvas can be quite intimidating so I try and make marks on it as quickly as possible, knowing that the first marks are really only a sketch or first idea, so don’t need to be perfect. I often use acrylic ink or paint for this first layer, as it dries quickly and allows me to work on top of it quickly. After that, the process slows down to a much more contemplative pace. I mix oil paints with turps and linseed oil, into a loose wet consistency and use large brushes, or rollers to apply the first layers, encouraging the paint to run down the canvas, turning the canvas round so it drips and runs both ways, often flicking white spirit to help it flow more easily. Then the task of deciding how much to leave, and how much to remove, or rub in, working quickly with paper towel or a rag while the paint is wet enough, often just smudging or spreading the paint into a translucent film. I often feel as if I am removing as much paint as I put on, but the stain of colour left contributes to the patina of the work.

Each layer has to dry, which usually takes a couple of days, before it can be worked on again so I tend to work on several canvases, or projects at once, so I don’t have to spend too much time just watching paint dry! Occasionally I can lose sight of my original vision for a painting, and it will change and morph into something quite different from my first intention, and I try to let the process itself lead me.

The finished paintings, are therefore not of a specific place or location but rather an impression of colours, forms, light, and atmosphere, pulled out of the successive layers of paint, enabling an individual response and interpretation.

I also enjoy printmaking, especially mono printing, which uses very painterly techniques, and often use this as an alternative way of exploring my interests and themes.

  1. What are you working on at the moment (forthcoming exhibitions, events, workshops etc)?

It has been a busy time recently – I have had an exhibition of recent work on show at Art Van Go in Knebworth during April and May, we had a very successful Open Studios event at The Forge on the 9th and 10t May, and I am currently preparing for Art Fair East www.artfaireast.com, which is a new art fair taking place in St Andrews Hall in Norwich from 5th – 7th June 2015.

  1. What are your plans for the coming year?

Sadly, this is my last year as a Fellow with Digswell Arts and with this in mind I have been on the hunt for new studio space, clear that I did not want to move into a space on my own, but be with other artists with whom I can share my creative journey. Fortunately I have found somewhere which I can share with 2 other artists, and hope to move into the new space over the summer, which will mean leaving the Forge slightly before my Fellowship runs out. However I am hoping to transfer my fellowship to become a member of the Print Group, so I can keep in touch with this community, and develop my print making further as part of my practice.

Alongside this I now need to also focus on getting my work exhibited more widely, so I will be looking at other Art Fair opportunities, approaching galleries and responding to more ‘Call for Entries’ for exhibition opportunities.

  1. What is the question you get asked about your work and how do you answer it?

I most often get asked where I get my inspiration from and how long it takes to make an individual painting. My inspiration is the landscape I move through on a daily basis. I often have a walk on my way in to the studio, exploring the multitude of lovely footpaths in the local countryside, many of which link on and off the Ayot Greenway. I don’t often sketch but I do take a lot of photos, but mostly I just like to immerse myself in the landscape, to imbibe it, and work from that memory and feeling when I get into the studio, without trying to recreate anything exactly. Consequently my work will reflect the current season, or recent journeys or travel. However, as I mentioned earlier, each painting may take several weeks or months to complete, as I build up successive layers of paint, and they often change from the original intention, reflecting a new season or mood.

  1. What or who inspired you to be an artist and why?

I think it must have been my father, who died when I was in my early 20’s. He dabbled in both oils and water colours himself, as hobby artist but non the less accomplished and I have a treasured painting of his on the wall at home. I remember as a child, on holidays in Wales, on those inevitable wet days, he and I would go off together in search of little local galleries, and I was always captivated by the atmospheric paintings we found, that seemed so evocative of that part of Pembrokeshire – moody and wet and dark! Looking back on it I suspect we might have often visited the gallery of John Knapp Fisher, an artist who settled in Pembrokeshire and dedicated his time to exploring his adopted home through his art. He is an artist who I have continued to admire on subsequent visits to that part of the country, and was sad to hear of his death earlier this year, as he has been so much part of my life.

  1. Which artist do you most admire and why?

I think I would have to say J W Turner. Not very original perhaps, but he had an astounding gift. The quality of his early drawings and etchings are stunning, and by his early twenties, he was painting huge canvases with all the skill of a much more experienced artist. He was tireless, prolific, curious and always developing and growing. But it is his later work that I really love, where his predominant interest was the quality of light, and his expression was getting more and more abstract and impressionistic.

In terms of more contemporary artists I would list Hughie O’Donoghue, for his moody evocative paintings often incorporating photographic elements, and Gerhard Richter – the latter, again, for his prolific and wide ranging talent – it seems what ever style he turns his hand to he masters.

  1. How has your relationship with Digswell Arts Trust strengthened your practice as an artist?

It has been a wonderful opportunity having a studio space in a building with other artists, with the support of the Trust. I have really appreciated the creative connections and encouragement, as well as the friendships that have developed, and regret that my 5 years fellowship is coming to an end.

As a group of artists, we have really supported each other and learnt from each other. We are all at different stages of our journeys, work in different mediums, use materials in different ways, have different conceptual approaches, and different inspirations, all which contribute to creating a rich and fertile ground for creative exchange, challenge and development. There are opportunities to exhibit with fellow artists, informally, and formally critique each others work and pick up new ideas and techniques.

However sometimes it is just as important to close the studio door, get your head down and get on with it! Having my own studio space, at an affordable rent, has made all the difference to me taking myself seriously as an artist, and I am now ready to take the next step, with confidence, into independence.

The Other Side - Gill AyreWinter Chill - Gill AyreSpring Storm - Gill Ayre

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