ACCORDING To McGee is still putting art in the shop window despite the here-we-go-again impact of Lockdown 2.
“Culture is in quarantine, but collecting great art continues,” says Greg McGee, co-director of the distinctive yellow-fronted gallery in Tower Street, York.
”And if the doors have to close then we’ll use our window to sell our paintings. It’s opposite Clifford’s Tower – we get a lot of footfall – and it’s huge.”
Lockdown: The Sequel has prompted Greg and co-director Ails McGee to launch the Window Shopping series of exhibitions, kicking off with According To McGee’s biggest-selling artist, Richard Barnes, former head of art at Bootham School.
“Famed for his man-sized portraits of York, Richard’s latest collection, York And God’s Own County, has some of the largest cityscapes and landmarks he has ever produced,” says a delighted Greg.
Window Shopping’s modus operandi addresses the necessity of locked-down galleries displaying their wares explicitly in the window space and making as much use of the wall space viewable from that vantage point as possible.
“I don’t think it’s a skill taught in curatorial lessons at art college, but these are strange times. ” says co-director Ails. “I organised with Richard a socially distanced drop-off of 15 new paintings, created at his garden studio.
“I was blown away by the quality of the new collection. He has always had a muscular, mischievous approach to composition and colour schemes, but these are stand-out works that show him at the top of his game.
“I have filled the front gallery with his work, from floor to ceiling, and we have already made pre-exhibition sales. Not very minimal or a traditional art gallery approach, but the energy is unmistakable. Window shopping works.”
Richard, who lives in Huntington Road, had done some “window showmanship” of his own in the lead-up to this show. “The paintings I love most hit me in the gut and hit me in my soul,” he says.
“During [the first] lockdown, I exhibited the paintings I was making on the back of my studio, so people using the river path opposite could see them. Somehow the job of making paintings that might hit someone somewhere, or even just give them a bit of pleasure, seemed very worthwhile.
“The new set of paintings at According To McGee are those that people commented on most during those tense lockdown months.”
Richard also became involved in a project to create a huge painting for the new mental health hospital for York being built a little further along the Foss river path [the now opened Foss Bank Hospital in Haxby Road].
“The smaller landscapes in the new exhibition are experiments with light and space that I used to inspire the largest landscape I have ever painted and am still working on,” he says.
Barnes’s work has been a building block of According To McGee ever since the gallery launched 16 years ago. “It is especially pertinent this winter,” says Greg. “I’m honoured to act as the art advisor for the internationally well-regarded poetry zine, Dream Catcher, whose December issue features the art of Richard Barnes exclusively, so this show chimes with that nicely.”
Casting an eye over the new works, Ails says: “Richard has always painted with the risk-taking energy of an excellent painter in his 20s, but there’s a stronger, fiercer element to this collection.
“Maybe he has rediscovered a latent aggression, or mischief, or maybe it’s Lockdown. Either way, these paintings depict York as a modern city and the North York Moors as a location for contemporary landscapes better than any collection on the market. Come look through our gallery window and see for yourself.”
It is no secret that Richard, who has painted ceaselessly since the 1980s, will be bidding farewell York in the months ahead, selling both his studio and house. “Although I am leaving York and Yorkshire, I really hope I will continue my relationship with painting York and According To McGee,” he says.
“I want to thank Greg and Ails for supporting me and many other northern artists. What I have loved most about working with them is their attitude of ‘Why not?’.”
Watch out for news of his York Farewell Show at According To McGee in 2021. In the meantime, whether out exercising or shopping, take a breather in Tower Street to peruse Window Shopping: Richard Barnes, York and God’s Own County; expansive, bold and inviting eye contact behind glass until December 1.