DAVID Finnigan and Peter Davis will launch According To McGee’s focus on contemporary artwork in 2021 with a joint show from January 8.
“We see the pending challenges of the new year as an opportunity to refocus our ambition to provide crucial contemporary painting for collectors from all over the UK,” says Greg McGee, co-owner of the Tower Street art-space in York.
“We are a gallery that champions painting and the skill set and specific cultural heft that comes with it.”
Greg and co-owner Ails McGee “never got over our mid-Nineties education as art students”. “We were told by professors that painting as a medium was dead,” he recalls.
“It was ‘bourgeois’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘colonial’ and ‘irrelevant’, when exhibited alongside its shinier competitors: performance art, installation art, light projections and conceptual art.
“Twenty-five years later, and here we are, directing a commercial, independent art gallery. We see everyday close-up just how crucial painting is to culture and the creative industries. It’s painting that people want, and it’s never going to go out of fashion.”
Outlining the McGees’ outlook for 2021, Ails says: “We thought if we we’re going to get the foot in the door of 2021, we’d better come accompanied with painters who reflect the confidence of us going forward to thrive as a gallery in the ‘new normal’. So, we’re honoured to bring to York the painters David Finnigan and Peter Davis.”
Greg rejoins: “Both push paint around with the panache of Nureyev. This is ground-breaking work by any standard. What’s interesting is they both prioritise a realistic element. It’s not photorealism, as such, but a vision and a precise draughtsmanship that most artists would kill for.
“Contemporary painting is one of the few genres that have been democratised to the point of silliness. A perfectly executed painting is not a relic of the patriarchy. Spilling half a pint of acrylic from hip height on a canvas is not liberating because it deconstructs Western hegemony.
“At best, it’s creative, but it’s not art. Painting demands a zeal and a focused work ethic just as much as ballet or singing opera does. David and Peter and their respective collections showcase that better than any other painter we know and are perfect for our Contemporary Painting In 2021 series.”
The McGees are intrigued by Finnigan’s work not fitting into any pigeonhole. “It’s not just photorealism, where the paint simply does the job of a camera, but a whole lot slower,” says Ails.
“He observes his subject and then begins a process we as a gallery have seen only David execute. He breaks what he sees down into components, exaggerating certain aspects while retaining the realism of others. It’s a unique, idiosyncratic dedication to harnessing his own vision.”
David explains: “Although, in recent years, my paintings have been rooted in the traditions of photorealism painting, I’m now beginning to subvert the idea of a painted version of a photograph by ‘breaking up’ or modulating the picture plane to add new dimensions via careful and intuitive use of colour and graphical composition.
“I feel my work now has more of an affinity with the ‘Precisionists’ rather than the ‘Photorealists’.”
Finnigan, by the way, is working on a new smaller painting and developing ideas for the next few in his new series. “These will share the same visual concept that the work I’ve brought to According To McGee has,” he says. “Namely, subverting the surface detail of ‘the reality’ and forcing the issue of colour foremost, by adding a new layer of composition.”
Finnigan’s paintings sit well alongside the latest collection from Manchester artist Peter Davis, who is a member of the Contemporary British Portrait Painters and an elected council member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.
“This is truly a solid duo exhibition,” says Greg. “Peter is recognised by the industry and serious collectors as one of the most important social realist painters in the UK.
“Normally, he focuses on figures dimly lit by their own absorption in their personal technology, but this series is different: Peter has produced a collection, Living History and Technology in York, especially for According To McGee.”
The McGees see Davis’s new work as a natural dovetail with the art of David Finnigan, as well as with their gallery’s mission statement. “We’re a contemporary art gallery in a city known for its history,” says Ails.
“There are loads of edgy, innovative aspects to York that sometimes don’t get noticed as much as they should. As awesome as heritage is, York is also shot through with what we call ‘Living History’. This is an opportunity for collectors to add art that reflects just that to their collection.”
Peter says of his new York collection: “Living History and Technology in York is part of a new urban realist series capturing contemporary stories of people in everyday life, technology in hand.
“These three paintings feature the old Rowntree’s factory on Haxby Road and are set in different parts of the building. I really liked the idea of capturing this York landmark before it’s redeveloped.”
As the changeover of calendars fast approaches, Greg looks back on a year in the unrelenting grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. “Yet 2020 still turned into the utopia I initially envisaged,” he says.
“In the shadow of the pandemic, I assumed fractures and tribalism would coagulate: it’s hard to argue about politics in the pub when there’s a plague outside stalking the streets.
“But what happened instead was the noisiest, angriest year I have ever seen, which, conversely led to huge sales of impressionistic seascapes. The bitter beauty of dark seas, offset by just enough light on the horizon, became a refuge of many of our clients.
“So much so that Ails, my wife and business partner, felt encouraged to return to the studio to pick up the paintbrush. Her collection sold out and we look forward to exhibiting the next collection in 2021.”
Ails is confident 2021 will provide a clearer pathway for creative talents on every level. “After a year where the dominant theme has been uncertainty, creative people are rolling up their sleeves and identifying where they want to be at a given point. We are no different,” she says.
“For a while, as a gallery, we spent maybe a little too much time trying to reinvent ourselves with electronic art, video art, sound art and concepts. Believe me, that stuff is as boring to curate as it is to view.
“We’re a gallery that celebrates contemporary painting, and it’s for that reason that we’re preparing for our 17th anniversary as our most successful year yet. That’s a bold claim, but we have the art of David Finnigan and Peter Davis to launch. This is about as good as it gets.”
Contemporary Painting in 2021: David Finnigan and Peter Davis runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from January 8 to February 14 2021. “We’ll be open, Covid-compliant, with no gatherings,” says Greg McGee, in the light of York’s Tier 3 status from December 31.