Sheila Girling in her studio c.1990.
Sheila Girling in her studio c.1990.

Most comprehensive exhibition to date of British painter Sheila Girling to open in Scotland this summer

Sophie Farquharson looks ahead to the new Sheila Girling exhibition in Fife this summer. 


She was a ground-breaking British abstract painter renowned for her expressive, vibrant and deeply emotional paintings. But Sheila Girling was often overlooked.

Now, 100 years after her birth, the most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date, will be held in Fife to celebrate her incredible art.

Arts organisation SPACE TO BREATHE is hosting the event dedicated to the artist, who died in 2015, which will see some of her rarer pieces of work displayed.

More than 70 of Girling’s large scale paintings and collages will go on show in Bowhouse, St Monans, alongside sculptures by her lifelong partner, Sir Anthony Caro.

Sheila Girling. Credit: Colette Morey de Morand.

Born in Birmingham, Girling went on to become a student at the School of Art there. She also studied at the Royal Academy Schools in London where she received several awards.

Following her first solo exhibition in London in 1978, her work has been showcased across the globe, with exhibits displayed in Canada, Germany, Spain and the USA.

Evident in all Girling’s work is her understanding of the power to express emotion and suggest form through the fortuitous juxtaposition and layering of colour.

Although predominantly known for her large abstract paintings, throughout her career Girling also worked in various media including clay, paint and works on paper.

Her paintings encompass the freedom and experimentation of American abstraction, with a distinct English sensibility and rigorous classical training.

Sheila Girling, Beyond a Dream, 1992. Credit: Sheila Girling Studio/ Barford Sculptures 2024.

Sheila Girling, Windspit, 1977. Credit: Sheila Girling Studio/ Barford Sculptures 2024.

She married her artist husband Anthony Caro in 1949 the pair spent their lives working alongside each other. Girling described their marriage as ‘a 64 year conversation about art’ and they both freely admitted her influence on his work.

On occasion Girling chose or changed the colours of Caro’s sculptures and often painted them herself. 

Visits to North America in the late 1950’s and 60’s and the work of renowned American artists, including Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland, shaped much of Girling’s style. 

Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro during the late 1970s.

Influenced by her adventures in America, Girling began to add animation to her work by the use of actions and gestures of painting. 

She then began to discover possibilities for new dynamics of colour and image making.

Into the 1980’s, Girling’s canvases gradually started to incorporate cut, torn and pasted papers. 

Of working with paper, Girling said: ‘I found myself with collage… 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.’

Her use of colour and abstract form bridges British, European and American mid century influences. Girling’s work is a testament to an artistic life led at the centre of both the British and American avant-garde art scene from the 1960s until her death.

Sheila Girling
After Africa, 1981. Credit: Sheila Girling Studio/ Barford Sculptures 2024.

Sheila Girling at Margie Hughto’s ceramic studio in Syracuse, 1978.

Sheila Girling will run from 20 July to 5 August and 17 August to 1 September. 

SPACE TO BREATHE is led by curator and art consultant Sophie Camu and her husband and photographer Alexander Lindsay. 

They said: ‘We are thrilled to bring this museum-quality exhibition to Fife. Girling’s large canvases dazzle in their intensity and brilliance of colour and form.

‘They are abstract and yet grounded in figuration, evoking the natural world while expressing the dynamic qualities of the medium itself – be it acrylic on canvas or paper collage.

‘This will be a fantastic opportunity to engage with some of Girling’s most significant works and we look forward to welcoming those who may be familiar with her work, or who come to it for the first time this summer.’



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