YORK artist Carol Douglas is the latest addition to According To McGee’s year-long celebration of contemporary painting to mark the Tower Street gallery’s 16th birthday in York.
“Actually, we were supposed to be holding events and happenings with performance artists, lasers, illuminations and installations, but Covid came and kicked that into the long grass,” says gallery co-director Greg McGee.
“And we’re glad it did, in a sense. It forced us to re-address ourselves as a gallery and distil what we do best into something unique, which is exhibit painting as though it was the edgiest, most crucial artform on the scene – which it is, by the way.”
Greg’s garrulousness has been vindicated by an autumn spike in sales of paintings by artists such as wife and co-director Ails McGee and Newcastle’s Beth Ross.
“The time for making contemporary painting the gallery’s priority seems to be now, and it is with this in mind that we approached Carol Douglas,” says Ails.
“We love Carol’s art, which dovetails very neatly with the rest of the current exhibition: in essence an evolving version of the summer show, with painting leading the way.
“What Carol’s art has that sets it apart, however, is a steely dedication to noticing the domestic and elevating it into the sublime. So, we have a bowl of fruit composed as it if it were weightless, or a chair rendered as if lit from within with flat, languid light, like a flag. All the time there is experimentation and mischief, made obvious by sudden placements of colour and playful lines.”
Carol Douglas: Hygge and Expressionism, an exclusive collection of paintings for According To McGee, launches today (Saturday, October 17) and marks a first for the McGees.
“It is the first time that we will be simultaneously inaugurating an exhibition both physically and online via the gallery’s social media,” says Greg. “The nature of the opening matters less than the nature of the paintings, though.
“People have been obliged to stay at home and contemplate their homes. Interior-design decisions have been increasingly important for Brits for the past 20 years, and I should know: I was a judge on the BBC’s Best House In Town.
“The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is attractive and simple. It means maximum cosiness with minimalist clutter. It’s a nice way to live. Carol’s art seems to compound that, with its wet pebble palette and gentle compositions.”
Greg adds: “It’s especially powerful because it’s so idiosyncratic. You can walk in a room and even if you don’t know the artist, you see the painting and go, ‘ah yes, there’s that painter whose Still Lifes are so crisp and exact’.
“They have that crucial human warmth that, even via minimal expressionism, good art reminds us that things aren’t so bad. There’s a glow in life that even 2020 can’t extinguish.”
Summing up her latest paintings, Carol says: “I hope that people who see my work find it both visually exciting and somewhat amusing. The domestic has always been my focus and speaks of my personality and history.”
Hygge and Expressionism will run at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from today until October 26. The gallery is open every Saturday or by appointment on weekdays via accordingtomcgee.com/pages/contact or on 01904 671709 or 07973 653702. Alternatively, view online at: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/carol-douglas
Did you know?
Carol Douglas won the Adult & Access Award for Art & Design Lifelong Student of the Year in 2018.
RETURN of the Mc could not have gone better for Ails McGee, whose “comeback” exhibition at According To McGee sold out at yesterday’s launch in York.
Gallery co-director Ails unveiled Return Of The Painter: The Sea, The Sky, The City from midday to 4pm as the ebullient Tower Street art space welcomed browsers for the first time since the Covid-enforced shutdown on March 23.
“Thanks to everyone who came today,” Ails and fellow director Greg McGee tweeted afterwards. “The paintings of @AilsMcGee connected with collectors and are now sold out. She is taking commissions and is preparing for the next group exhibition. We open next Saturday. Come see us!”
Ahead of the launch, Ails said: “This is our 16th year anniversary, and we had innovative plans with big innovative events to celebrate. Performances, installations, digitally illuminated projections: it was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, but all of that was kicked into the long grass in March. Since then, I’ve gone back to the drawing board, so to speak.”
So much so, Ails has picked up her paint brushes again, in part inspired to do so by “parsimonious proposals from politicians on essential exercise”.
“I remember thinking while I was alone in the middle of Rowntree Park at midday, there were certain people who would have reported me to the police,” she says. “It was a hard time to go outside and watch the season change. I don’t have much memory of seeing the cherry blossom this year as it was a complicated thing just to go outside and enjoy nature. So, I thought to myself, if I can’t experience the real thing, why not paint it?”
Before establishing the According To McGee gallery with her husband and business partner Greg McGee in 2004, Ails was a successful painter, exhibiting in her native Kelso in the Scottish Borders and around Yorkshire.
Her painterly arc flattened with the arrival of children – “three under three years old at one point,” she says – and her forays into charity work and The Artillery art enterprise. Now, however, the arid aspects of Covid have helped Ails focus on how important painting is to her.
“It’s everything. It forces you to see more clearly and, though it can be frustrating trying to harness what you see – all those shades, curves and colours – it’s the mixture of poetry, prophecy and religion that is so empowering and addictive,” she says.
Painting in lockdown has been “very liberating” as Ails built on her experiences of nature in the Borders, this time basing her compositions on the visual power and bitter beauty of the North East coast.
“It’s funny, seascapes come with the unfair caveat that they’re twee and calming, but it’s the opposite of that which intoxicates me and which I hope I am beginning to harness in my paintings,” she says. “The sea can be savage and changeful, on the point of bursting into full bloom, but in a painting it’s rarely twee.”
Bringing her new seascape collection to the commercial market after her hiatus does not unnerve Ails, “It’s the perfect time,” she argues. “I’m in good company: Freya Horsely and David Baumforth are internationally well-regarded masters of their craft in this field and, to be honest, I’ve already made some pre-exhibition sales.
“So, I’m in a very fortunate position. I’m producing paintings, I get to hang them in my gallery, and I’m selling them to collectors who enjoy the visuals of a sea in constant change.”
The difficulties of running a gallery under the shadow of Covid are surmountable, reckons Ails. “We’re launching with a day-long happening,” she said before yesterday’s event. “The gallery won’t be too busy at any given point, we have the attendant sanitisers, and we’re happy to welcome anyone who wants to come: old friends, artists, clients, collectors, new collectors,” she says. “Quarantine has cut culture short for too long. We can’t wait to get back in the groove.”
CULTURE Secretary Oliver Dowden is on the case, he says, making plans for the gradual re-opening of theatres, comedy joints and music venues, when Covid-safe to do so, but the traffic lights are still stuck at red.
Outdoor performances were given the thumbs-up to resume from last Saturday, not so helpfully at two days’ notice, and cinemas are pencilling in a re-start from July 31, although nothing is confirmed yet. Meanwhile, assorted summer festivals are going virtual, as did this week’s Great Yorkshire Show.
This masked-up column will steer clear of the pubs, bars, restaurants and shops making their welcome comebacks, focusing instead on what’s going on…or not going on, as CHARLES HUTCHINSON reports
RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, July 19 to 26
THE 2020 Ryedale Festival has transmuted into RyeStream, an online festival of eight concerts, streamed straight to your home daily over the course of a week.
Musicians are making the journey to North Yorkshire to perform in three empty but beautiful locations: All Saints’ Church, Helmsley, St Michael’s Church, Coxwold, and the triple whammy of the Long Gallery, Chapel and Great Hall at Castle Howard.
Taking part will be Isata Kanneh-Mason, piano, July 19, 3pm; Rachel Podger, violin, July 20, 11am; Matthew Hunt, clarinet, and Tim Horton, piano, July 21, 1pm; Anna Hopwood, organ, July 22, 11am; Abel Selaocoe, cello, July 23, 6pm; Rowan Pierce, soprano, and Christopher Glynn, piano, July 24, 9pm; Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin, and Christopher Glynn, piano, July 25, 3pm, and Carducci Quartet and Streetwise Opera, July 26, 6pm.
New exhibition of the week: Giuliana Lazzerini: Solo, Blue Tree Gallery, York
BLUE Tree Gallery artist in residence Giuliana Lazzerini has opened an exhibition of new acrylic work online and at the York art-space for viewing by appointment only.
The Bootham gallery is “not fully open as yet”, but Covid-safety measures are in place, enabling viewing appointments to be made for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until August 5. To book one, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gallery re-opening part two: Pyramid Gallery, York
TERRY Brett’s Pyramid Gallery, in Stonegate, York, has re-opened, operating a two-fold system for visitors.
You can book a 30-minute slot to browse the gallery at your leisure at pyramidgallery.com/ or, alternatively, if there is a sign up saying Please Knock To Enter, knock on the door and either Terry or Fi or Sarah will invite you in, one group at a time, and lock the door behind you.
“If the lights are not on, the shop is closed that day,” says Terry. “We will not be open on Sundays.”
Art installation of the week: Anita Bowerman’s Give Cancer The Boot, Castle Howard grounds
HARROGATE artist Anita Bowerman has designed a Tree of Life installation, Give Cancer The Boot, for Yorkshire Cancer Research’s Give It Some Welly fundraising campaign.
Hanging from a fir tree by the Atlas Fountain on the South Front, glistening in the sun like a summer variation on Christmas decorations, are 191 hand-polished stainless-steel wellies embossed with the YCR’s rose.
Why 191? They represent the 191,000 Yorkshire people who have “given the cancer the boot” over the past 25 years or live with it. To see the wellies, you will need to book a visit to Castle Howard at castlehoward.co.uk.
Outdoor theatre show of the summer: Orpheus, The Flanagan Collective/Gobbledigook Theatre
LIVE theatre is back, all over North Yorkshire, at your invitation. Step forward York theatre-makers Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger, who are mounting a five-pronged art attack under the banner I’ll Try And See You Sometimes.
Among their analogue enterprises is Orpheus – A Hyper Local Tour. “We’re taking Orpheus on an outdoor tour around North Yorkshire’s local lanes, villages, and towns, performing with social distancing in place and abiding by Government guidelines on how many people can meet at any one time,” says Alex.
“The shows can take place on people’s streets, at their front windows and in parks and gardens,” says Phil. “Instead of announcing a show that the public can book tickets for, we’re asking for people to pop on to flanagancollective.com and book a suitable slot and the whole show will be brought to them.”
Home entertainment of the week for children: A Bee and Lari the Seagull in Scarborough
SCARBOROUGH Museums Trust will present an online summer programme of seaside and animal-themed stories, crafts and activities, based around objects in the Scarborough Borough Collection, with the help of Lari the Seagull from July 22 to August 20.
On Wednesdays, from July 22 to August 19, families can enjoy Seaside Adventures, whether “meeting” rockpool creatures or magical selkies, all inspired by paintings at Scarborough Art Gallery and designed by storyteller and artist Jan Bee Brown.
On Thursdays, from July 23 to August 20, Animal Antics will take participants on a journey across the world, inspired by animals in the SMT natural history collections.
The highlight each week will be a new audio story written by Brown, released each Wednesday.
Seek out the good news
YORK Racecourse’s Music Showcase Weekend with Pussycat Dolls and Rick Astley is a non-runner on July 24 and 25. Les Miserables will not mount the barricades from July 22 at Leeds Grand Theatre. However, Greg and Ails McGee’s According To McGee gallery, in Tower Street, York, will be opening its doors once more from Saturday. Sophie Ellis Bextor has announced a Kitchen Disco Tour date at Leeds Town Hall on May 19 2021; Irish chanteuse Mary Coughlan has re-arranged her Pocklington Arts Centre gig for a second time, now booked in for April 23 2021.
And what about…
THE Luminaires on BBC One on Sunday nights; can anyone shine a light on what’s going on with all that to and froing in time? New albums by Sparks, Margo Price and The Streets. The Reading Room café at Rowntree Park, York, re-opening.