Despite having been praised by Wyndham Lewis in 1949 as one of the few young British artists to mould the future of British art, Ayrton was remarkably underappreciated by the art establishment, something perhaps attributed to his unconventional subject matter.
Ayrton was born in 1921 to father Gerald Gould, a poet and fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and Barbara Bodichon Ayrton, who was heavily involved in the suffrage movement. Ayrton's childhood was a rather liberal one, but after having been expelled from school aged 14 and announced his decision to become an artist, his father's disappointment was clear, something Michael resented.
In 1937 Ayrton enrolled at St. John's Wood Art School where he met friend and future collaborator, John Minton, with whom he would subsequently share a studio in Paris. During this time Ayrton saw Serge Lifar in Icare which, according to granddaughter and biographer Dr Justine Hopkins, led him to paint Icarus. While in Paris Ayrton studied under Pavel Tchelitchev and Eugene Berman, whose influences are visible in his figure compositions.
Throughout his artistic life Ayrton received theatre and stage commissions designing scenery and costumes, the first being Gielgud's production of Macbeth, with Minton, around 1940-1941. Their involvement was limited after being conscripted in to the RAF, but Ayrton was discharged following severe ill health, and this enabled him to continue working. A joint exhibition of both Minton's and Ayrton's paintings for the production took place in 1942 and precipitated Ayrton's appointment to the Camberwell School of Art to teach life drawing, a post which he held from 1942-1944.
It was during his visits to Italy from 1946 that Ayrton's interest in Renaissance art and proto-Renaissance sculpture began, something that would later impact his own sculptural works, which were particularly inspired by proto-Renaissance sculptor Giovanni Pisano. As his interest in sculpture grew, Ayrton looked to Rodin and Giacometti, both of whose influences are visible in the manipulation of the medium and composition.
During the 1960s he made repeated trips to Greece, where he created drawings inspired by the myth of Icarus. During this time he was overcome with a desire to write verse inspired by the myth, and these fragments were later compiled with drawings as the publication, The Testament of Daedelus (1962). Ayrton would later write short stories which were published in Fabrications (1973). He wrote the pseudo-autobiographical novel 'The Maze maker' in 1967. He is also the author of several art historical books including, 'Aspects of British Art' (1947).Ayrton has had retrospectives at The Wakefield, 1949, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1955, and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1977.
His work is in several important collections including : the Tate Gallery, London, National Portrait Gallery, London, Museum of Modern Art, New York and Fry Art Gallery, Essex.
Left school at age 14 to begin painting career.
Lived in Vienna
1937 - 1939
Shared studio with John Minton in Paris, studying with Eugene Berman.
Commissioned to produce stage designs on John Gielgud's 'Macbeth'.
Travelled extensively in Italy.
Wrote for The Spectator.
Michael Ayrton, Completed Works 1945-55, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.
Michael Ayrton, The Figure Celebrated, Bruton Gallery, London.
Tate Collection, LondonNational Portrait Gallery, London
Ayrton, M., Testament of Daedalus, Robin Clark Ltd, 1991
Ayrton, M., Homage to Michael Ayrton, 1921-1975, R.S. Johnson International, 1984
Ayrton, M., Maze Maker, Avon Books, 1980
Ayrton, M., Michael Ayrton, recent sculpture & drawings, 1972-1975, R.S. Johnson-International Gallery, 1975Ayrton, M., Paintings by Michael Ayrton, Grey Walls Press, 1948. Cannon-Brookes, P., Michael Ayrton: An Illustrated Commentary, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 1978Chamot, M., D. Fair and M. Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London, 1964
Hopkins, J., Michael Ayrton: A Biography, Andre Deutsch, 1994
Laver, J., Paintings by Michael Ayrton, Grey Walls, London, 1948
Nyenhuis, J. E., Myth and the Creative Process: Michael Ayrton and the Myth of Daedalus, Wayne State University Press, 2003
Turner, W.J. (ed.), Aspects of British Art. Introduction by Michael Ayrton, Collins, 1947.