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Eroded Silver

Michael Ayrton (1921-1975)


Signed and dated 2.8.64

Watercolour with bodycolour

15 ½ x 19 inches

Carter Collection, Johannesburg

Athens-Hilton Gallery, Athens, October 1964, No 16;
'A Century of British Art: 1945-2010', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, October-November 2021, no 230

Eroded Silver
The travels in Greece that Michael Ayrton undertook from 1957 not only helped to stimulate his interest in Classical culture, and especially mythology, but also sparked a series of abstracted landscapes that are at once sumptuous and spare. Beginning with a group entitled 'Cycladics', he launched into an abundance of formal and technical experimentation in order to capture the essence of Hellenic topography. Many of the works, including the present one, were showcased in Greece itself, at the Athens-Hilton Gallery, in October 1964.

According to Ayrton's biographer, Justine Hopkins,
'The increasing abstraction of his Greek landscapes ... represent his growing sense of the universality of his imagery - the plastic equivalent of his belief that myth moves in the human mind so that the mind is gradually, imperceptibly, changed as the landscape is modified by erosion and flood and sun and wind.' (a letter, dated 31 August 1996, written to Jacob E Nyenhuis, and quoted by him in his book,
Myth and the Creative Process:
Michael Ayrton and the Myth of Daedalus
, The Maze Maker, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003, page 224)

However, for Ayrton, erosion may not only have paralleled the universal effect of myth on the human mind but also (in a Neo-Romantic example of pathetic fallacy) the personal effect of exhaustion on his own body. In 1952, over a decade before he produced Eroded Silver, he made the following, darkly humorous, comment in a letter to his patron, Ben Pomerance:

'Your concern for my health is well-founded in that I am being gradually worn away by nervous and other non-clinical complaints. So worn am I that Henry Moore has chosen me for Reclining Figure 1580 on the grounds that I resemble a stone infinitely eroded by the elements ... not to fear. I am still ornamental and can be placed against a yew hedge or on any open stretch of lawn.' (quoted in Justine Hopkins,
Michael Ayrton: a biography, London: André Deutsch, 1994, pages 179-180)

Eroded Silver shows that, if this relationship between body and eroded stone intensified through the ensuing years of Ayrton's career, it did so with exquisite results, as if the wearing away of matter revealed, and even released, an extremely beautiful spirit.

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