Corrective Services NSW

Terry Ayres

5=1 Spiral

5=1 Spiral
Acrylic on canvas, 2001

Terry is a painter specialising in highly colourful works.
There are two distinct strands to Terry’s subject matter: non- objective circular compositions with overlays of colour, and creative depictions of prison interiors.

Terry’s circular compositions, of which 5=1 Spiral is a prime example, were inspired by a black & white photo of a fossilised shell imprint.

Captivated by the image, Terry began experimenting with creative ways to create circular-like shapes on a stretched canvas. After many creative attempts, he discovered that using a can with a string and pencil attached, he was able to produce controlled concentric lines. He would then meticulously apply more paint, graduating in tonal value.

To add more interest and complexity to the painting, he painted layers of small radiating marks over the underlying tonal areas. Terry achieved this by splaying brushes of varying sizes, loading them with colour, and overlaying brush marks on top of one another. The technique has the effect of creating a sense of movement and spatial depth to the work.

The highly detailed paintings, of which he produced a prolific collection, required an intense level of focus. “It’s my big escape,” he told a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald. “When I am painting I forget where I am. If they knew where I went every night they’d have me doing a million years for escape. Because I’m definitely not in this joint when I have a brush in my hand.”

The aesthetic beauty of these works and the skill evident in creating them, meant they were much admired, regularly sold through Long Bay’s Boomgate Gallery and were exhibited in several exhibitions, as well as being used to decorate the covers of various departmental publications.

Long Bay Hilton Foyer
Acrylic on canvas, Terry Ayres, 2001

Inspired by black and white documentary photographs of gates and bars with stark shadows taken inside the prison by his art teacher, Sue Paull, Terry began painting interior details of Long Bay Complex.

This example, Long Bay Hilton Foyer is based on an image of the gate entrance interior. However, unlike the stark black and white photo it emulates, Terry’s depiction of the same subject is intensely colourful.

“Most of my works are expressed in bright and vivid colours,” he explained in his artist statement for the exhibition Sentences. “Twenty years in gaol, living in a ‘dull and dreary’ caged atmosphere, trains the mind to see things in a more pleasant and subtle way, more appealing to the eye of the beholder.”

In contrast to the flat two-dimensional photograph, Terry added modelling compound to the acrylic paint to create a relief or ‘3D’ effect in some areas of his paintings. He devised his own way of piping the compound onto the canvas, influenced by what he had witnessed in childhood of his grandmother decorating cakes.

The work is striking and graphic, but also joyful, radiating a range of bright, uplifting colours. It was exhibited in various exhibitions including Sentences and Convictions, as well as being reproduced and written about in various media publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald.

Terry Ayres in the Long Bay Art Unit
Terry Ayres in the Long Bay Art Unit
Terry Ayres artwork featured on the cover of Sexual health and behaviour of New South Wales prisoners
Terry Ayres artwork featured on the cover of Sexual health and behaviour of New South Wales prisoners
Last updated:

03 Oct 2023

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