Sheila Girling (1924 – 2015) made large–scale abstract paintings, often using both acrylic paint and collage, which embraced the sensibilities of American abstraction pitted against a distinctive English sensibility and rigorous, traditional training at the Royal Academy Schools. Influenced by early trips to North America with her husband, Anthony Caro, and the paintings of friends and contemporaries such as Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, Girling’s paintings from the 1970’s employed full-arm and full-body gestures to explore the possibilities of acrylic paint and atmospheric colour.
By the 1980’s, Girling increasingly incorporated cut, torn and pasted papers into her canvases as a means of overcoming what she felt were the limits of paint, and to regain control of the final composition. Her fusion of painting and collage allowed her to give full rein to her gift for navigating the implications of colour relationships with greater clarity and flexibility, much like the ‘Cut-Outs’ of Henri Matisse’s later years. “I found myself with collage,” Girling said. “Instead of your arm moving the paint haphazardly, as soon as you start working with pieces you can start making decisions about structure – long term decisions. And you can take things away or shift them on the surface.”
The dominant characteristic in all of Girling’s work is her ability as a colourist, whatever the medium, employing hues for expressive and structural reasons (Girling collaborated closely with Caro on his painted sculptures). Girling’s last series of works are a large group of smaller-scale yet vibrantly bold, assured collages made with a combination of handmade papers and paint, as dynamic as any of her larger paintings.