Gillian Ayres, Sikar II, acrylic on paper, 1993, Worcester City Collection
Volunteer researcher, Deborah Keaveney, has been exploring the fine art collection at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery. She has been researching Sikar II by Gillian Ayres which was acquired through the support of an Arts Council England/V&A purchase grant.
Gillian Ayres (born 1930) is an important British abstract painter, who trained at Camberwell School of Art in London (1946-50), before going on to teach painting in Bath and London and becoming Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art. She has lived and worked as an artist in London, Wales and Cornwall, which has included mural painting and printmaking, as well as painting on paper and canvas in a variety of media.
In 1991 she was awarded the Gold Medal for the British Council Triennale exhibition which began its world tour in New Dehli, India. It is possible that the artist also visited the ancient Mughal city of Sikar to the South West of Dehli at this time, which she then used for the title of a series of abstract paintings in acrylic on paper. Sikar II, which is now in the collection of Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, was painted in 1993, by which time the artist had also been elected an R.A. by the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
The painting is a medley of vivid colours and abstract patterning that echoes the strongly illuminated colours, both natural and man-made that can be seen on a hot summer night in the North Indian city of Sikar. Originally this was ruled by the Rajas of the Muslim Mughal empire, founded by the warrior leader Genghis Kahn in the early 16th century. Sikar soon became a fortified military centre with high surrounding walls and seven city gates. It is now famous for its Mughal architecture, art and culture that draws and welcomes visitors from around the world.
Against this historical background the painting by Gillian Ayres, Sikar II takes on a new significance in its strident shapes and colours which are surrounded by a midnight blue border that suggest the structural patterns of narrow streets and old Mughal Haveli houses around which are woven the bright and riotous life that goes on within its walls, with a striking central motif of a scimitar or curved sword in shades of blue from blue-white at the curved edge to a deep, regal purple at the rectangular cross of the hilt and finial ball handle above it. The vivid mix of colours and patterns in this work seem to carry a spirit of place and suggest the intensity of life lived in this bustling city, with its history of succeeding layers of power, buildings, people, plants and animals, all within the confines of an ancient and fortified city. Translated into abstract painting, it is a city full of glancing impressions and captivating expressions that are visualised through the artist’s forceful and compelling use of form and colour. But from this apparently disconnected network emerges a narrative of abstract signs and shapes that suggest the architecture and sense of a distant place that is both thrilling in its strangeness and familiar in its variety.
The work of Gillian Ayres is represented in London by the Alan Cristea Gallery