Ayres decided to become a painter at the age of fourteen, and studied at Camberwell School of Art from 1946-50, before running the AIA Gallery with painter Henry Mundy whom she married. During the entire period of her maturity as an artist she has produced abstract paintings of strong individual flavor owing both to European post-war abstraction and to American Expressionism. The former influence came indirectly through her meeting with Roger Hilton when he was experimenting with free abstraction. Of equal importance were photographs she saw of Jackson Pollock working on his paintings on the floor, which encouraged her to work without brushes and with physical movements unlike those of conventional easel painters.
In later years she continued to develop her almost instinctive approach to color, especially when in 1978 she turned from using acrylic to oil. In recent work she has sometimes continued to apply the paint until the surface gives way under the strain, but the colors retain their brilliance and individual quality.
Gillian Ayres' first solo show was at Gallery One in 1956, although she featured in many key group shows thereafter, for example Whitechapel Art Gallery's seminal British Painting in the 60s in 1965. Her solo shows however, are an impressive list: Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1981; Serpentine Gallery, 1983; the Tate Gallery, London (1995) and the Royal Academy in 1997. She has taught at St. Martin's School of Art and the Royal College of Art and was made an RA in 1991. Ayres's work has been exhibited in many group exhibitions in countries throughout the world since 1957, including France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, USA and Japan. She continues to exhibit regularly at Gimpel Fils, London and at the Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Gillian Ayres lives and works in Cornwall and London.