Why Angus Vasili finds cause for optimism in his Brutalist architecture screenprint exhibition at According To McGee

J B Morrell Gallery, screenprint, by Angus Vasili, at According To McGee , York

ARCHITECTURE is the focus of Angus Vasili’s Optimism and Brutalism exhibition at According To McGee, York.

“Since the first Lockdown we found that nature does more than heal,” says Greg McGee, the Tower Street gallery’s co-director. “It can provoke and galvanise, and a lot of that energy can be found in the new seascapes or moorscapes that collectors have been buying or commissioning.

“We’ve had more collectors asking about cityscapes and depictions of architecture; something about the definition of hard angles and the certainty of edges is chiming with tastes. We thought it was about time we gave Angus Vasili a ring – and that’s how this Optimism and Brutalism show came about.”

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, screenprint, by Angus Vasili

The McGees are of the mind that Brutalism’s reputation is in need of rehabilitation. “It goes beyond subjective opinions,” says co-director Ails McGee. “These buildings were once loved for their linear honesty but now they’re often derided. Vasili pulls them out from ‘Architectural Cancel Culture’ and to re-evaluate them.”

By using titles such as Central Hall, Hayward Gallery and JB Morrell Library, Vasili’s latest collection gives an idiosyncratic overview of Brutalism’s greatest hits.

“They are more than mere portraits of their stark subject matter,” says Greg. “His silkscreens are at heart playful experiments. There are blushes of hot colour, dancing, broken lines, white slices of negative space deliberately alone.

Artist Angus Vasili with gallerists Ails and Greg McGee at According To McGee

“These come from a love of the process and the accidents it throws up, as much as the focused observation of a building style that most people think leaves no room for flexibility.”

Angus explains: “My fascination with concrete, industrial landscapes and what I recently came to know as ‘brutalism’ has triggered this series of screenprints. I’m combining photography, texture and printmaking to create a raw aesthetic that resonates with the fundamental material of brutalism.

“I use a combination of bold colour and texture to help convey the optimism that these architects strived to achieve with this period of architecture.’’

Hayward Gallery, screenprint, by Angus Vasili

Optimism and Brutalism will be on show in According To McGee’s front room until November 14. “It’s a sharp reminder that there’s room for more than ancient history in York,” says Greg. “There have been calls to demolish York’s Stonebow and replace it with faux Georgian gentility, which would be even more irksome, because of its sleight of hand.

“We’re opposite Clifford’s Tower, arguably York’s most famous landmark. We can see for ourselves how Vasili’s art contributes to the discussion of York’s architectural continuum, and we’re finding that our clients and collectors are in agreement.”

Gallery opening hours are: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm; Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702. For more information on Angus Vasili, go to: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/angus-vasili.

Spectrum Haze II, screenprint, by Angus Vasili

Knaresborough duo Simon Crawford and David Austin Duckworth bring Indian and Cornish colours to According To McGee

Colours From A Hot Land, inspired by Indian travels, by Simon Crawford

ACCORDING To McGee’s campaign to “alleviate anxiety caused by uncertain times” gathers pace with the duo exhibition Colour & Ceramics at the ever-revolving gallery in Tower Street, York.

No sooner has she launched her own collection Affirmations, in celebration of the reviving powers of tea, than artist and gallerist Ails McGee has curated a new show by Simon Crawford and David Austin Duckworth for the front gallery opposite Clifford’s Tower.

“Colour is underrated in Britain,” she says. “After 19 months of relentless bad news online and in the papers, it’s sometimes an obligation for creatives to stop reflecting the anger of the times and instead try and find a little optimism. That’s why there’s such an explosion of colour here at the moment.”

Colour & Ceramics sees the launch tomorrow of new collections from painter Simon Crawford and painter and ceramicist David Austin Duckworth, on the back of Crawford’s return from a trip to India.

Knaresborough artist Simon Crawford at work in his studio

“This has provided a portal into the theme of the exhibition,” says gallery co-director Greg McGee. “Simon’s art has been exhibited internationally, with shows in Moscow and, a little closer to home, at the Dean Clough galleries in Halifax, helping give this collection an extra heft and pull for collectors across the UK.

“But it’s also the fact Simon travels and soaks up his experiences with such obvious wonder and gratitude that imbues his paintings with such ripples of light and dark.

“To hear him talk of watching the Indian jungle come to life from his train window in the red light of the evening is thrilling, and then to hear him talk of how Covid-19 has decimated the shanty towns of Amritsar and Mumbai is a reminder that recent history has been a nightmare for millions of people.

Whinny Bank, Rievaulx, by Simon Crawford

“Art is never going to fix these problems, but it can be a hammer we can use to help shape our response. In this case, it’s a very colourful hammer.”

Crawford has brought back to his North Yorkshire studio a new appreciation of colour and energy, even filtering his depictions of North Yorkshire’s Whinny Bank at Rievaulx through the conduit of a Punjabi palette.

Looking forward to exhibiting at According To McGee, he says: “The concept is a brilliant one from the gallery: brightening these rather grim days through colour.

A David Austin Duckworth painting in the front window of According To McGee, York

“India is visually explosive and an eyes-out-on-stalks experience. A love affair was ignited by the intensity of the Indian palette. This show will set the visual taste buds tingling as the English autumn approaches.

“My work takes you on a journey through the Rajasthan landscape of pink saris against pale green and yellow mustard fields. India made me reimagine my vision of the English landscape.”

Complementing Crawford’s vivid compositions, fellow Knaresborough artist David Austin Duckworth continues his Cornwall Inspired collection in celebration of the elements, especially those found in Cornwall.

David Austin Duckworth in his studio

“Not all of us managed to get to Cornwall this summer, so experiencing David’s artwork is the next best thing. David’s paintings are alive with light and turquoise seas, and his Raku-fired ceramics ache with how precious nature is. Simon and David work well together, and it is a duality we’d like to continue to exhibit.”

Greg concludes: “We’re excited! There’s a whole load of reasons for people to visit York city centre; we like to think that contemporary art is increasingly up there at the top of the list.”

Simon Crawford & David Austin Duckworth: Colour & Ceramics runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from October 7 to 21; open daily, 12 noon to 5pm, except Sundays, or by appointment on 07973 653702.

According To McGee gallerist Greg McGee with a painting by David Austin Duckworth

Tea time! How a reviving cuppa has inspired Ails McGee’s mellow Affirmations paintings

Ails Mug-ee! York artist Ails McGee with her paintings in celebration of the cuppa and Hygge at According To McGee

EVERYTHING starts with tea for York artist and According To McGee co-director Ails McGee.

Key to Ails’ latest artistic development is the scale and quality of this city’s tea shops. “After a while, you need to reach for something that isn’t wine,” she says. “And we’re very well looked after by tea havens such as Tullivers, Hebden Tea and Tea Palace. 

“But it’s not just the tea. There are these little affirmations that are attached with string to the tea bags and they’re wonderful. Such a simple little morning ritual has become like a prayer for me, especially at this time of chaos, and that serenity has most definitely fed into my new collection of paintings.”

Why has everything stopped for tea in this preamble? Because gallerist Ails has picked up the paint brushes once more to bring her Affirmations to the ongoing Return Of The Painter series at the McGees’ gallery in Tower Street, York.

My Day Begins And Ends With Gratitude, mixed media on board, by Ails McGee

Before establishing According To McGee with husband and business partner Greg in 2004, Ails was a successful painter, exhibiting in her native Kelso in the Scottish Borders and around Yorkshire.

Bringing up three children, together with gallery and charity commitments, meant the brushes were lain to rest until the “parsimonious proposals from politicians on essential exercise” for Lockdown 1 prompted her to go back to the drawing board.

The Return of the Mc went so well that her “comeback” show of North Eastern seascapes sold out in a day in July last year as the ebullient Tower Street art space welcomed browsers for the first time since the Covid-enforced shutdown on March 23.

Now, in the wake of Return Of The Painter: The Sea, The Sky, The City, Ails has turned her attention to all things “hygge” [the Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment].

The return of the painter in gallerist, mother and charity champion Ails McGee, at peace in her studio

Cue her latest collection, all semi-abstract compositions of teacups and vases, bearing such titles as Come Home: All Is Well And I Am Safe, My Day Begins And Ends With Gratitude, I Am Connected To My Power Centre, Find The People Who Make You Feel Like Sunshine, I Allow Myself To Play And Be Silly and As I Return To The Shore I Feel Braver Than I Did Before.

That’s some departure from your depictions of the North Sea, Ails? “The subject matter is different but the theme is the same. These paintings are celebrations of optimism and positivity at dark times,” she says of her works inspired by affirmations, colours, pebbles, textures and, yes, those reviving cups of tea.

“It’s just that, rather than the light on the horizon, they find hope in the straightforward act of making a pot of tea or living with simplicity and without clutter.”

Managing the gallery and producing new collections of painting has “never been easier” for Ails. “The daily pause that comes with enjoying Yogi tea and following the guidance provided on the actual tea boxes has led to a more relaxed mindfulness. That is most certainly true,” says Ails.

Mood board: As I Return To The Shore I Feel Braver Than I Did Before, mixed media on board, by Ails McGee

“But I’m a businesswoman too, so it’s very gratifying to see such successful sales. Private collectors snapped up the first wave of paintings. The second wave has gone to The Backyard, in a commission, which is hugely exciting to be part of something so visually stunning.” 

What and where is The Backyard, Ails? “The Backyard, or Bakgardurrin in Icelandic, is a holiday let in Heworth, managed by Gudbjorg Halldorsdottir as an Icelandic retreat for visitors from Iceland and elsewhere,” she says.

“The commission caught my imagination and allowed me to align my new passions: Affirmations, Art, Tea, all displayed in a location curated with genuine northern hygge and with such taste.

“The art looks perfectly placed and is available to buy for visiting guests. It’s an honour to be able to provide such souvenirs for visitors to York.”

Mugs of tea in the artwork, but strangely not on the table! Artist Ails McGee and Icelandic host Gudbjorg Halldorsdottir in The Backyard, Gudbjorg’s holiday let in Heworth

Gudbjorg says: “The idea of running a luxury holiday let in York has been brewing in my mind for a while. As an Icelander, I’ve been living in York for three years. I feel passionate about spreading the word and enabling as many as possible to experience this wonderful city.

“When the opportunity to buy a new-built house in our backyard emerged, I wanted to explore the possibility of collaborating with local people and businesses in York.”

As a lover of art, she was keen to add “something special” to the house and to work with York artists to display their work in The Backyard.

“My partner and I have been lucky to get to know the lovely Greg and Ails McGee. I noticed that Ails had a beautiful collection of small pieces. Her work was exactly what I was looking for,” she says.

Hitting the spot: Abundance Flows Freely To Me, mixed media on board, by Ails McGee

“I hope that my guests at The Backyard will enjoy the artwork and take the opportunity to purchase a piece as a perfect souvenir of their stay.”

Ails is enjoying painting a new collection to meet demand from new clients. “Affirmations, as a collection, has definitely struck a chord and I feel I’m onto something positive at a time when things have been so tough.

“If an artist can feel vindicated by the support of visionaries such as Gudbjorg and new collectors, then I am indeed blessed.”

Yes, it’s time for Affirmations, a browse and maybe a brew at According To McGee, open Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm, Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702.

Empowering: I Am Connected To My Power Centre, mixed media on board, by Ails McGee

Freya Horsley goes very BIG for seascapes exhibition at According To McGee gallery

Big news! York artist Freya Horsley, right, and According To McGee co-director Ails McGee stand by Freya’s largest-ever paintings, Turning Tide, left, and Liquid Light, ahead of her Contemporary Seascapes exhibition opening tomorrow

ACCORDING To McGee reopens its York doors this weekend to the biggest paintings that the Tower Street gallery has ever exhibited.

York painter Freya Horsley’s solo show, Contemporary Seascapes, launches on Saturday morning in a bold statement of her artistic practice.

“These aren’t only the biggest paintings we’ve exhibited, they’re the biggest commercial paintings in the UK”, says a laughing gallery co-director Ails McGee.

Message, by Freya Horsley, at According To McGee

“Freya has created a stunning collection. The size is not a gimmick. Combined with her evolving compositions and palette on both her large-scale pieces and her smaller works, it’s a confident demonstration of where she is as a painter, at the top of her game, and selling to collectors from all over the world.”

According To McGee’s front room will be displaying the new series, a mixture of seascape paintings depicting the Cornish, Scottish and North East coastlines, including the two large mixed-media works on canvas, Liquid Light and Turning Tide, each priced at £4,500.

Co-director Greg McGee points to the “integral optimism” of these new works. “It’s been a rough time for everybody. Loss and loneliness have been a steady drizzle on life for over a year, but things are slowly clicking back into gear, and I can’t think of a better way to reflect that than through beautiful paintings of the sea,” he says.

Freya Horsley on a sketching trip to the coast

“There’s restlessness, depths, and enough luminosity to help hammer home our message as gallery curators at this time: nature can heal. Because of that, Freya’s art connects with collectors internationally.”

Greg delights in pointing out that Freya is the only artist with whom he has appeared on the Beeb. When BBC One’s Best House In Town featured York in its inaugural series in February 2019, Greg was among the five judges, and Freya’s art was instantly recognisable in one of the houses.

“Her art makes you look twice because it has a calming quality and, like a good sunrise, it makes you go ‘wow!’,” he says. “That came across very powerfully on TV. We have clients who watched the show in Dubai who got in touch, saying ‘I’m watching in Burj Khalifa the guy who sells me paintings and the art I like to collect most’.

Open Eyes, by Freya Horsley, on show at According To McGee from this weekend

“It was a very good showboat for York. We’re glad that we’re still here to celebrate the increasingly powerful art of one of Yorkshire’s most collectable painters.”

Freya Horsley’s Contemporary Seascapes exhibition runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from September 11 to October 11. Gallery opening hours are: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm; Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702.

For more of Freya’s art, check out: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/freya-horsley

David Finnigan and Peter Davis launch According To McGee’s new year of painting

Artist Peter Davis with According To McGee co-curator Ails McGee, each holding a work from his Zeitgeist series at the gallery in Tower Street, York

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.”

Skater, Old Rowntree’s Factory, by Peter Davis, from his new series for According To McGee, York

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.”

Evolution, an earlier work by David Finnigan, not on show in his latest exhibition at According To McGee

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.”

Graffiti, Old Rowntree’s Factory, by Peter Davis, from According To McGee’s first Contemporary Painting in 2021 exhibition in the new year

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.

Critical Mass, by David Finnigan, on show at According To McGee

“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.

The Red Door, Old Rowntree’s Factory, the third new Peter Davis work on show at According To McGee from January 8

Winter arrives at According To McGee as David Baumforth opens seascape show

According To McGee co-director Ails McGee and York-born artist David Baumforth assemble his Winter collection in readiness for Saturday’s opening

ACCORDING To McGee, in York, reopens on Saturday with the salty rush of David Baumforth’s new Winter seascapes.

A regular breath of seaside air at the Tower Street gallery, Baumforth’s work depicts the places he loves: the North, its coastline and hinterland.

After handing over the front gallery to York cityscape artist Richard Barnes for Lockdown: The Sequel’s innovative Window Shopping Exhibition, this forthcoming weekend is a tribute to fellow gallery favourite Baumforth, the York-born son of a turner and fitter at British Rail and a packer at Terry’s chocolate factory.

In a long career where he has won the Not The Turner Art Prize, exhibited at London’s Royal Watercolour Society Opens and Royal Academy Summer Shows and received the acclaim of TV art critic Sister Wendy, Baumforth once more embraces his Yorkshire coast and moorland muse for Winter in the latest burst of creativity from his Snainton studio near Scarborough.

“This collection is indicative of a painter who, far from resting on his laurels, continues to blossom,” says Ails McGee of David Baumforth’s new Winter works

Gallery co-director Ails McGee is delighted to see Baumforth retain his title as the “Turner of the North”. “This collection is indicative of a painter who, far from resting on his laurels, continues to blossom. The marks are fierce, even as he captures the last rays of light on winter trees,” she says.

“Most graduates we work with have admitted that they would give their left arm to paint like David Baumforth, which is vindication enough. The pre-exhibition sales that are coming in are also a welcome seal of approval.”

David, now 78, says: “It feels right to be exhibiting in a solo show in York at this stage of my career. My style may have slightly changed, but I’m not interested in gimmicks. The Yorkshire moors and its coastline are a constant source of inspiration for me. I’m happy with my work, so I feel no need for change.

Wintry blast: One of David Baumforth’s new works, capturing the season’s fade to grey

“I’d rather exhibit them in According To McGee than anywhere else as they have a good feeling for good paintings and have done so for some time.”

Ails points to the modern energy of Baumforth’s Winter depictions. “There’s something crucial, like he has something to prove,” she says. “He has always had a reputation of being irascible, but all that has mellowed out now, and whatever bristling, visionary impatience he had is now manifest in his paintings. It is painting that has brought him this far and we are at a fascinating juncture in his career.”

Ails is alluding to 2021’s landmark summer event: David Baumforth: The Final Exhibition. “David is working towards a collection that is in essence a victory lap for a painter who has redefined what it is to depict York and Yorkshire,” she reveals.

“The marks are fierce, even as Baumforth captures the last rays of light on winter trees,” says Ails McGee

“This Winter collection is a forerunner of that, and what we have here available for purchase reveals some very interesting directions David is going in. He has complete control over his vision and style and his work is simply becoming more desirable because of that.”

Co-director Greg McGee is fully recharged for Saturday’s bracing reopening. “2020 has been a turbulent year. Though we have been forced to close our doors in the two lockdowns, our clients have remained loyal and have either contacted us after peeking through our front window or have made purchases through our site.

“That aspect has been fine but, ultimately, we are a contemporary gallery and you can’t beat the energy of opening the door and allowing browsers to enjoy the new collections from excellent artists. That’s why Saturday is so important to us.”

David Baumforth: Winter runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from Saturday, 12 noon to 5pm, daily until Christmas. The gallery also is open by appointment on 01904 671709.

“I’d rather exhibit them in According To McGee than anywhere else as they have a good feeling for good paintings,” says David Baumforth as he delivers the chill of Winter to the York gallery

McGee responds to Lockdown 2 with Richard Barnes window shopping launch

York artist Richard Barnes making his socially distanced delivery of his new York and North York Moors works to According To McGee. Standing in the doorway is gallery co-director Ails McGee

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.

York Minster: A perennial subject matter for York artist Richard Barnes, featuring once more in his Window Shopping exhibition

“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.

According To McGee co-director Ails McGee with a panoply of new Richard Barnes paintings on display in the Tower Street gallery window opposite the reflected Clifford’s Tower, York

“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.”

York artist Richard Barnes, caught up in a riot of colour in his paintings for an earlier show at According To McGee

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.

North Yorks Moors, as portrayed by Richard Barnes in his new God’s Own County series

“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.

More, more Moor: How do you like it? Another of Richard Barnes’s moorland Yorkshire paintings on sale in According To McGee’s debut Window Shopping show

Mischievous Carol Douglas’s “visually exciting and somewhat amusing” new works go on show at According To McGee

York artist Carol Douglas at work in her studio

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.

“What Carol’s art has that sets it apart is a steely dedication to noticing the domestic and elevating it into the sublime,” says According To McGee co-director Ails McGee

“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.

“Carol Douglas’s paintings have that crucial human warmth that, even via minimal expressionism, good art reminds us that things aren’t so bad,” says Greg McGee

“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’.

“I hope that people who see my work find it both visually exciting and somewhat amusing,” says Carol Douglas

“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.

Lockdown stirs Ails McGee to go down to the sea again…for her return to painting UPDATED 26/07/2020

Artist Ails McGee: Picking up her brushes anew in lockdown

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.

Ails and Greg McGee after the successful launch of Ails’s Return Of The Painter show as According To McGee re-opened.yesterday afternoon

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.”