Being an Art Detective

Reading an artwork

Being an Art Detective means looking and thinking about artwork very carefully and then doing some research to find out more. Artists use their work to explore and present themes and ideas, not just to create a likeness of a person or scene.

Helios by Gillian Ayres

Look at the artwork pictured here: Helios by Gillian Ayres, which was made in 1990. Explore it in the following ways:
  • Look at it from a distance, then up close 
  • Look at it while standing up
  • Try turning the picture upside down
  • Close your eyes, then look again
Think about the artwork and talk to a friend about it:
  • List what you can both see in the artwork
  • What is the artwork about?
  • Do you like it? 
  • How many different colours are there?
In  Helios, Gillian Ayres has carefully chosen the colours and shapes she wants you to notice, to convey a message. This is because colours can make us feel a certain way or spark memories: blue might make you feel cold; green might taste minty; spiky shapes could make you feel scared, while rounded shapes might make you feel calm.
Look at the colours and shapes in Helios. Work with a friend and think about:
  • Where have you seen these shapes before?
  • What memories do the colours and shapes evoke?
  • Make a face to show how each one makes you feel.
  • Do you and your friend feel the same? Why? Why not?  

Find out more:

Carry out some research to try to find out more about  Helios by Gillian Ayres. Think about art works by different artists, other art works by Gillian Ayres, mythology, world cultures. Afterwards, think about what you've done and in pairs, answer these questions.
  • How has your research changed your opinion of the art work?
  • What do you feel its meaning is now?
  • What was the most interesting thing you found out?
  • Is there anything you would do differently if you did the artwork activity again? 


Chariot - two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle used in Ancient times
Convey - get across or communicate
Helios - Helios is the Greek god of the sun and drives the chariot of the sun across the sky
Mythology - stories used by Ancient people to make sense of the world

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Leeds Art Gallery | 
Image © Gillian Ayres

Accessibility Statement | Terms of Use | Site Map

Copyright © My Learning 2018. All Rights Reserved

Website by: Grapple