YOUNG York artists are adding a colourful twist to the city’s iconic heritage landmarks for a summer display at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street.
Award-winning York arts charity New Visuality has worked with children aged five to create the fun, fresh and vibrant artworks, on show in the Colour! exhibition until September 23.
The combination of arts and culture continues in the Bar Convent garden, where an outdoor sketch space has been created with easels and drawing materials, with the invitation to take inspiration from the exhibition and collections to create your own artistic interpretations. Easels are subject to availability and weather permitting.
Under New Visuality’s wing, York’s young artists have reimagined the city’s heritage bolstered by funding from City of York Council’s Micklegate, Clifton, and Westfield wards. They visited the Bar Convent and other heritage sites to find inspiration for their work.
Charity co-director Ails McGee says: “We always love coming over to Bar Convent Heritage Centre with groups of young people. Many of our young participants initially report that heritage and culture are just not for them, for one reason or another, but the warm welcome they receive as soon as they come here helps dispel that notion.
“It’s our job, as a visual charity, to build on the groundswell of enthusiasm and encourage creative responses that we can then exhibit.”
New Visuality spent time working in the Bar Convent archives, helping to realise the vision behind Colour! by briefing the young artists to take photos, find photos and use innovative AI technology for the first time to create digital pieces such as Ethan Wood’s Bar Convent Overgrown (with pink), Rosie Measor’s Beatles and Alfie Wood’s Hippopinkimus.
Co-director Greg McGee says: “Heritage without innovation is just history. This project has brought so much joy to our young artists and is a microcosm of what Bar Convent continues to do so well, which is to intersect tradition and technology. The future is indeed bright.”
Dr Hannah Thomas, Bar Convent’s special collections manager, says: “We’re thrilled to be involved in this wonderful project that has enabled us to host these amazing and talented young people.
“The purpose of sharing our collections and history with the public is to preserve the legacy of our house and to celebrate the lives of those who changed the course of history. The younger generations are custodians of this legacy.
“Many young people feel that museums are not for them, and perhaps have a perception of them being boring and dusty places. With the fantastic work done by New Visuality, we can begin to change that idea and show that heritage is for everyone.”
The Colour display is included in admission to the Bar Convent exhibition from 10am; last admission, 4pm. Tickets: 01904 643238 or barconvent.co.uk.
YORK charity New Visuality is bringing newly designed innovative artworks to the Blueberry Academy Summer Fayre the Melbourne Centre, Escrick Street, York, on June 8.
“This annual event is increasingly popular with its learners, learners’ families, and its staff,” says charity co-founder Greg McGee. “Traditionally it has consolidated the work of Blueberry Academy’s commercial arm, Blueberry Academy Pop Up Shop, now at 108 Walmgate,York. Now organisers are keen to widen the net to attract the wider community.”
Curriculum manager Laura Kent says: “The promise of lovely items available for purchase, plenty of tea and coffee and as much cake as you can eat has served us well in the past and is a good reflection of the positive energy created at our events.
“However, we’d like to see members of the public attend, so if people could please spread the word, that would be great. Our collaboration with New Visuality has meant that we have been able to work on the exhibitions we have here on display, as well as items for sale that have been designed using AI software.”
Formed in 2007 by Andy Bucklee and Andrew Cambridge, Blueberry Academy provides specialist support for young people and adults with learning differences, autism, social, emotional and mental health needs and/or other disabilities, with employability and independence as educational priorities.
New Visuality, directed by artist husband-and-wife team Greg and Ails McGee, has collaborated on visual arts projects since the beginning. “We received funding from Arts Council England’s National Lottery project grants to work with York’s wheelchair-using community,” says Greg.
“The project, Better Wheels, has gathered a groundswell after working with wheelchair-using residents in Acomb, Westfield, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without. Our plan is to integrate York’s wheelchair-using community with artists in sessions and exhibitions, interfusing traditional skills with innovation, celebrating access to cultural sites.
“It’s been a great success with art displays at Sanderson House, Take5 and Dalton Terrace’s Art Camp. When it comes to Blueberry Academy’s Summer Fayre, we thought, ‘this is an opportunity to build on the work we’ve been doing and to bring in some humour, AI technology and a game-changing exhibition’.”
New Visuality invited digital artist Alex Utley to participate. “Alex is an activist and artist, whose vision on accessibility provides the perfect portal for what Better Wheels has become,” says Ails. “The paintings I created were inspired by him, and the title, Shot In The Dark, a tribute to the Ozzy Osbourne song, was his idea.
“Basically, it’s a series of paintings shot through with positivity. That’s what we got from Alex, and the curatorial decisions were in the main part taken by him, with help from other Blueberry learners.”
Shot In The Dark will be on view for visitors to the summer fayre, alongside stalls selling prints, candles, jewellery, cards and much more, including coasters designed by Alex using innovative AI software, Canva.
He is pleased with the results. “Accessibility is such a massive issue in York, and though I and thousands like me have frustrations, there has been a lot of good work over the past few years,” he says.
“I thought it would be better to focus on the humorous side of what it is to be a resident like me in a heritage city in 2023. The coasters incorporate my ideas visually, I’m really proud of them and I’m looking forward to the next limited-edition series.”
Greg is confident the project will continue to engage. “We have kiosks around Acomb where members of the public can leave ideas in a light-hearted way on what access means to them. We have plans to exhibit art based on access with the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre in Blossom Street.
“We’re set to sit down with policy makers from City of York Council on how we can continue to make progress on York’s accessibility. In the meantime, the summer belongs to Blueberry Academy. We hope to see you there.”
Blueberry Academy Summer Fayre, Melbourne Centre, Escrick Street, York, June 8, 1pm to 3pm. Please note: no parking is available.
ALL Saints schoolboy photographer Patrick Heinemeyer is playing a big part in kickstarting a global green drawing campaign for young creatives in York.
Using the hashtag #DrawWithDenmark, for the past two years Viborg UNESCO Creative City has invited children and young people worldwide to draw and participate in a global drawing campaign.
In 2021, York charity New Visuality took part, sending messages of Hope during the pandemic to the children of the world.
This year, the theme is Green Together. Charity director Greg McGee is keen to build a groundswell of interest from a variety of cohorts.
“Patrick’s photos are a great way to get the conversation started. The challenge is for young people to create their art focusing on how we can save the planet and how we can create a sustainable and greener world,” he says.
“This kind of groundswell is harder than you think to maintain. There’s a kind of fatigue abroad with both artists and viewers that can ultimately prove to be counterproductive.
“The initial spark is crucial. Patrick’s photography brings the natural world to our sessions and provides the perfect platform from which we can inspire continuous creativity.”
Charity co-director Ails McGee concurs: “Our gallery According To McGee worked with a variety of artists, some of whom prioritised provocative shock over aesthetics. Well, there’s nothing more provocative than nature itself.
“During the pandemic, we were relentlessly reminded that ‘nature heals’. We prefer to think that ‘nature galvanises.’ Patrick’s photography provides a sharp, glowing portal that hammers home an important point: nature always wins. It’s this that has inculcated some of the best creativity we have ever seen in our outreach sessions.”
Patrick, 16, is delighted his photography is connecting so well. “I enjoy the challenge of capturing in my photography both the fragility and strength of the natural world. In an increasingly urban environment, small reminders that nature continues to thrive seem to hit a nerve.”
Launched on April 15, Green Together runs until August 1. Chris Edwards, chair of REACH (York Cultural Education Partnership), would like as many York schools as possible to become involved after half-term and finish their drawings, collages, paintings, animations by the end of the summer term.
“The campaign invites children and young people around the world to create drawings that tap into the global green agenda from a hopeful perspective and based on 20 drawing challenges (see the list below).
Greg is confident the project will hit its targets. “It’s a superb initiative and shows that, after a few tough years, York continues to be ambitious and collaborative. Our York partners include Fishergate’s Blueberry Academy and, via our Art Camp sessions, schools such as Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, St George’s and Westfield Primary Community School,” he says.
“By sending drawings from York’s young people to Viborg, York’s creativity will travel out into the world. For now, we’re looking at inspiration, and Patrick Hernemeyer’s photography is the gift that keeps giving.”
You can follow Green Together’s progress on Viborg UNESCO Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram and through #DrawWithDenmark.
What are the drawing challenges for Green Together?
1. How we can make York a greener city.
2. How we can help animals and plants survive this global challenge.
3. How green technology can save the planet.
4. Destination Hope: where are we going in the future?
5. How we can work together to save the planet.
6. Your personal “climate change” challenge.
7. A superhero who saves the Earth from global warming.
8. What animals would say about the climate changing.
9. How nature always wins.
10. Your green hope for the future.
11. How you can take care of nature.
12. How birds and animals will survive in the future.
13. What you can do to make your neighbourhood greener.
14. What you can do to make your school greener.
15. What you can do to make your home greener.
16. What a world where animals make the decisions looks like.
17. What the house of the future looks like.
18. How we create a sustainable everyday life.
19. A wish from Mother Earth. What is your wish for the earth?
20. Green Together: how do we work together to carry forward the green hope?
“WE would like as many York schools as possible to take part this year and send their drawings to Viborg to become part of the work that will be in displays across the world,” says REACH chair Chris Edwards.
“BBC Look North and BBC Radio York covered the first Hope project and hope to cover the project this year. We also hope the children’s work will be exhibited at your local Explore York library.
“Your school council, a school class or another group could take part. Feel free to let your creative spirit free in this wonderful campaign.
“We are looking at ways we could enhance and enrich the project. If you need more information or want to talk about how your school might get involved, contact email@example.com.”
YORK art gallery According To McGee is making plans for a return to business after a seven-month sabbatical on leaving Tower Street last September.
“We’ve been busy reminding ourselves why we need to celebrate art as gallerists”, says co-director Greg McGee. “York Art Gallery has been a great touchstone, as have locations further afield. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Middlesbrough’s MIMA, even last week’s trip to Belfast’s thriving independent art galleries, gave us a much-needed shot in the arm.
“The York experience can at times be a little insular, both from a purveyors and consumers’ point of view, so we’ve been getting out and coming back feeling re-energised.”
Embracing this outward-looking instinct, Ails and Greg McGee have focused their energies on the Affordable Art Fair Hampstead, running from May 11 to 14 on the Lower Fairground Site, Hampstead Heath, London.
“We wanted to stretch our curatorial wings outside of Yorkshire,” reasons Ails. “The Affordable Art Fair (AAF) is a whole different level of quality and serious collecting. The organisers now hold fairs in ten cities around the world: London, New York, Hong Kong, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, Singapore, Stockholm, Melbourne and Sydney.
“They’re dedicated to sharing the importance of loving art, and, when possible, collecting it. On a micro-level, that’s what we do too. So we approached them and they accepted us, and we’re looking forward to exhibiting with them in Hampstead next month.”
Although the McGees are purposely basing this latest chapter of their gallery’s evolution beyond York, a cohort of artists with strong links to York will be leading the way.
“At this stage of our career and with this specific project, it’s important for us to work closely with artists we actually personally like!” says Ails, “We’re handing our exhibition space over to Richard Barnes, Chantal Barnes and Freya Horsley. The three of them have a painterly synergy that has been hugely successful for us in the past and will help steady the ship as we sail into unknown waters.”
According To McGee’s final exhibition after 17 years opposite Clifford’s Tower (see https://fb.watch/jpif4qmZM4/) was a celebration of all three painters, presenting their latest collections.
Will the Affordable Art Fair exhibition provide an opportunity for international visitors to enjoy what art lovers in York have been able to experience, namely three seascape and cityscape painters, all well regarded for years?
“That’s a good question,” says Greg, “The answer helps us distil what we do best. We celebrate contemporary painters, painters who relentlessly evolve, and yearn for the next chapter. It’s not in the nature of any of our painters, especially Richard, Chantal, and Freya, to fossilise their output and become complacent.
“Their current compositions and mark making have all the experimental derring-do of white-hot graduates out of a world-class art school with points to prove and paintings to sell. You don’t get to sell as well as these three, nor do you get invited to exhibit at a globally recognised art event such as Affordable Art Fair Hampstead, without having something exciting and relevant to say.”
Richard, who moved south from York in 2020 after teaching art at Bootham School for many years, is excited to bring his new collection to a wider audience.
“For 17 years I worked on painting York in new ways. The concept of the cityscape was there to be pulled and played with, and the iconic visuals of York was perfect for that – being cheeky, being innovative, reinventing,” he says.
“Now it feels right to focus on London. There are so many stories, so many layers of history to capture. I’m really pleased with this collection, and I’m looking forward to revealing them at Hampstead with According To McGee.”
Chantal, Richard’s daughter, is an increasingly collectible painter with collections already gracing international walls. Hampstead will be her first art fair show.
“The vigour with which Chantal pushes paint around is exciting and relevant and indicative of where contemporary painting is today,” says Greg.
“Chantal and Richard have studios not far too apart, and sometimes they even collaborate on the same piece. There’s a wonderful synergy between the two of them, whether that happens to be on the same canvas or two canvases in close proximity, and this show is an exciting opportunity to witness that.”
Freya Horsley has been working on new collections for the exhibition. “While the internet makes artists and galleries increasingly global in their reach, the Affordable Art Fair is exciting because it’s absolutely about seeing real artwork up close and in person,” says the York artist.
“This is something that Greg and Ails have always celebrated and promoted in their York gallery: the physical presence of a painting and the way it can change a space.
“Working towards the fair has given me a really strong focus and an opportunity to make big impactful pieces, as well as smaller more affordable paintings, which is part of the rationale of the AAF. Alongside Richard and Chantal, I’m looking forward to showing our work to a new audience in this prestigious setting.’’
Ails is keen to build on According To McGee’s latest stage. “This is going to be about more than sales. The amount of global attention each Affordable Art Fair receives is simply huge, and we’re looking forward to bringing some of that gold dust back home when we relocate in York.”
Greg adds: “It’s this progressive, outward-looking energy that I think serves York so well. Us looking outwards to bring back energy and calibre is what in essence a heritage city like York is obliged to do now, for all kinds of reasons.
“Unless you want to become Beamish [the Living Museum of the North in County Durham], history only works when you have one foot firmly planted in an innovative future. And rather than being a footnote in the annals of York’s creative scene, we would much prefer to be part of the future than the past.
“The art of Richard Barnes, Chantal Barnes, and Freya Horsley has always flown the flag for what contemporary painting can do, and we’re excited as to what this new approach can bring.”
Watch this space for updates on According To McGee’s relocation plans after the McGee family’s move into Acomb.
Affordable Art Fair Hampstead fact file
AFFORDABLE Art Fair Hampstead presents contemporary art from 100 London, UK and international galleries from May 11 to 14 at Lower Fairground Site, Hampstead Heath, London. Works are for sale at £50 to £7,500.
Visitors can enjoy an art-filled day out with installations, curated displays, rising star artists from University of the Arts, London and Jackson’s Painting Prize, plus bars and cafés. Expert advice is available from the fair’s new art consultancy service “to help make finding your dream artwork a breeze”.
Opening hours are: May 11, general admission, 11am to 5pm; Late View, 5pm to 9pm. May 12, 11am to 5pm, Art After Dark Late View, 5pm to 9pm. May 13 and 14, general admission, 11am to 6pm; Weekend Family Hour, 11am to 12 noon. Tickets: https://affordableartfair.com/fairs/london-hampstead
Where else can you see Freya Horsley’s seascapes?
FREYA will be taking part in York Open Studios on April 15, 16, 22 and 23, showing her abstract landscape paintings at Bootham School Arts Centre, Bootham, York, from 10am to 5pm each day, preceded by a preview evening on April 14 from 6pm to 9pm.
Her work explores light, weather and atmospheric effects, building up surfaces with a wide variety of media and processes.
AFTER 17 years, York contemporary gallery According To McGee is to close its Tower Street doors on Saturday.
Acomb husband and wife and business duo Greg and Ails McGee are looking forward to launching their next art space, but first they will mark their exit from their yellow-fronted premises with a party. “You’ll come? Say you will!” rolls out the invitation on Facebook.
The couple met while teaching at Huntington School in York, where Ails (Miss Denholm at the time) taught art, Greg, English and drama.
In 2005, they opened their gallery in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower, initially operating as The ArtSpace before the McGees put their name to the enterprise. Now, coinciding with their own move to Acomb, they are shutting up shop, but not for long. One lease at is at an end, but a new lease of life for According To McGee will take root and beat fruit in suburbia.
“We’ve been busy gutting the gallery,” says Greg. “Chapter one comes to an end, but before we launch chapter two, we plan to have a party – and you’re invited.
“We’d love you to come and join us in saluting a wild 17 years’ holding court opposite Clifford’s Tower on Saturday from 4pm till 6pm.
“Paintings by Richard Barnes, his daughter, Chantal Barnes, and Freya Horsley await a final perusal in this location. All artists will be in attendance, as will all McGees.”
“Come over and say goodbye and peruse and perhaps purchase the paintings of Richard Barnes or Chantal Barnes.”
Greg and Ails are bowing out at Tower Street with Art Happening , the Barnes double bill of the former Bootham School head of art, cityscape artist Richard, and Chantal, a former pupil of Ails, who specialises in seascapes, landscapes and abstracts.
Barnes & Barnes: Contemporary Painting finds the McGees’ gallery coming full circle. “It was back in 2005 that we launched here on Tower Street with a solo show from Richard Barnes, so this is in a sense a victory lap before we launch chapter two,” says Greg.
More details of what comes next for the McGees will be announced soon. “We hope you’re as excited as we are,” they say. “By the time winter 2022 comes around, all will be revealed.”
“We were naïve when we started, but with naïveté comes a confidence,” reflects Ails. “Though we’re still just as confident 17 years later, we’re aware that this is the time for a reboot. We’d like to rediscover that sense of risk and experimentation that fuelled us so long.”
Greg concurs: “We started with Richard Barnes and we’ll finish here with Richard and his daughter Chantal’s art. That’s a pleasing narrative. The next chapter will include a dozen new artists we’ve never worked with before, but for now we say, to quote the neon art of Gary Winters & Claire Hind, ‘We Made Something Of This.’ That means a party on Saturday and a salute to everything that’s been.”
Greg and Ails McGee selectten moments where According To McGee “altered the cultural atmosphere” in York
It’s Good But Is It Art?, 2006
“IT was our second year as a gallery,” recalls Greg. “York Theatre Royal was getting ready to run Yasmina Reza’s play Art, in which one of a group of three friends purchases a blank white canvas to hang on his wall, leading to all kinds of existential debate.
“We were asked to contribute to their promo theatre booklet, but we thought we’d go further and run a series of exhibitions that asked of our visitors, ‘Is This Art?’.
“It gave us a good chance to distil our ambitions to an irreducible manifesto as well as work with a huge array of local artists. Ultimately though it proved to us as gallerists that we were a gallery in which contemporary painting was going to be our priority.
“It opened the door to Richard Barnes, who really helped us in the early days harness exactly what kind of space we wanted to be.
“The ‘Is It Art’ show was great. We launched it with a private view that hammered home what we were all about in the early days, which was much more about creating events and having packed parties than selling paintings.
“Guests included actors Stuart Organ, Andrew Dunn and Daniel Hill; we had Lord Mayors and Sheriffs; rock band Death Cigarettes performed. York was great back then with a really vibrant scene.”
Poetry! Kenny Goldsmith, Arnold Kemp, Rob Fitterman and Kim Rosenfeld, 2007 – 2010. Dreamcatcher: 2013-2022
“LOOKING back, it’s amazing how much international poetry we managed to fit into our early days,” says Ails. “Kenny Goldsmith, Rob Fitterman and Kim Rosenfeld were – and still are – some of the hottest textual artists in New York. Kenny was featured at President and Mrs Obama’s celebration of American poetry and was subsequently appointed the first Poet Laureate of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
“Bostonian Kemp is an artist, poet, and curator and serves as the Dean of Graduate Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was named a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow in Fine Arts. They all brought a transatlantic and literary energy to our York gallery.”
Greg adds: “We continue to fly the flag for poetry via my role as arts advisor for international poetry-zine Dreamcatcher and running exhibitions up until the present day. Staying sensitive to the currents of modern writing has helped us hugely in continuing to curate cutting-edge exhibitions.”
IN 2013, transatlantic links between York and New York received creative consolidation via an exhibition at 5th Avenue in New York and According To McGee. “York’s own Nathan Walsh, an internationally established painter, exhibited his astonishingly photorealist cityscapes at New York’s Bernarducci Meisel gallery,” says Ails. “Four days before that, a ‘pre-exhibition warm-up gig’ kicked things off at According To McGee.
“It was an opportunity to test some very innovative and experimental approaches. ‘Transamerica’ is a beautiful, bejewelled cityscape of San Francisco. What was especially great was that it’s rigorously observed and painstakingly crafted.
“On another level, Walsh painted it in concert with Newcastle University’s Culture Lab, so that with a free app developed especially for it, viewers could download the app and see the path the painting took, from its sketches to its final completed mark.”
The opening event had 150 people downloading the app simultaneously. “They held their iPod or iPhone in front of the print, seeing the history of one of the most beautiful cityscapes from one of the greatest photo-realists in UK reveal itself,” says Greg.
“It simply changed completely the way you see art. Collectors now had art in their hallway that, by day, was a stylish poster and became, once they had Repentir downloaded, cutting edge, limited-edition digital art. How’s that for a dinner party conversation piece?”
Seebohm: Stories and Gaming, Nick Walters and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2014
ACCORDING To McGee’s charitable arm New Visuality has worked with young people from across York.
“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation provided funding for us to work with young people from York who came from families who had experienced poverty,” says Greg. “For a lot of people, the very concepts of creativity and culture can lead to feelings of exclusion and frustration. 70 per cent of our participants had never visited York Minster.
“We sat with the young people and their families and carers and highlighted a strategic aim: how do we ensure accessible, diverse and inclusive cultural entitlement for young, disadvantaged people in the city via innovative creativity, and to seamlessly include participants who could pay fees? It was a tough call, but the Joseph Rowntree Foundation funding galvanised us on every level.”
The artwork was a mixture of basic gaming, comic-book illustrations, digital art and collage. “We needed to unify it to exhibit it in any meaningful way, so we brought in light installation artist Nick Walters to take over our front window,” says Ails.
“Fresh from installations at York Minster and Glastonbury, he worked with us to get the best out of each participant. He came up with the main visual, to project phrases and text from Seebohm Rowntree’s influential 1901 book, Poverty: A Study Of Town Life.
“Through a semi-transparent patchwork row of terraced houses and characters and their activities created in the project, the words filtered through colours and images chosen independently by our participants; some of their work, some of them working.
“It ended up being part of citywide festival Illuminating York but also stood as an inner-lit testament to Joseph Rowntree Foundation for months.”
Garage Projects, Goldsmiths and Glasgow School of Art Graduates, 2015
THE McGees saw in their tenth anniversary with a group show from Goldsmiths and Glasgow School of Art graduates.
Garage Projects, comprising Rae Hicks, Paul Crook, Jack Park, Mary Wintour, Ian Parkin and Will Thompson, brought ‘Beginnings, Middles, Ends’ to York.
“It was a chance for us to look outwards and chase quality,” says Ails, “Rae Hicks won the John Moores Painting Prize and more recently the Waverton Art Prize, beating 700 submissions shortlisted by the international curator Paint Talk.
“The exhibition launched with a packed event. Both Goldsmiths and Glasgow Schools of Art are so important in influencing the future of visual art, it was exciting to play a part in that.”
New York, YOU York, Dollarsandart featuring Sir Ian Botham, 2015
“DUBAI celebrity artist Jim Wheat, of Dollarsandart, had already encouraged a groundswell of interest in Dubai and the USA. It was thrilling to welcome him to York for an inaugural solo show, and having it officially opened by Sir Ian Botham was an added bonus,” says Ails.
She remembers “Beefy” Botham’s time in the gallery fondly. “He was lovely,” she says. “We talked a lot about the Scottish Borders and my hometown, Kelso. He also collaborated on painting a canvas with Jim, which went on to auction,” she says.
Sir Ian enjoyed his day in York. “It was a great pleasure to open Jim’s show supporting New Visuality,” he said. “I was impressed with how he’d developed his work, and I recommended ‘New York, YOU York’ at According To McGee.”
Text, Technology, Disability & Art, The Print Project, 2016
ACCORDING To McGee employed its charitable arm, New Visuality, to multifaceted effect in an exhibition that brought Greg and Ails the Best Cultural Event award at the inaugural York Culture Awards that year.
“We won in a pitch held at a Digital Innovation Fund GeniUS event the most cutting-edge kit in its field: Ideum’s Platform 46,” says Ails. “We set about building an algorithm-based programme that allowed learners at Blueberry Academy, via magnetic words, to concoct their own slogans and tweets.
“Each message was unleashed as a visual hot-air balloon, where the learner saw their own message join the increasingly complicated Twittersphere surrounding York at that time.
“Many tweeters loved UNESCO’s designation of York as a City of Media Arts; many tweeters were baffled, and many trolls hated the whole thing on principle. The differences in opinion was fascinating, so we thought ‘let’s make art out of this’.”
According To McGee duly contacted The Print Project in Shipley, West Yorkshire. “The Print Project are the Rolls Royce of letterpress printing,” says Greg, “It was an exciting morning at York’s Blueberry Academy when The Print Project first arrived and set up. Letterpress printing is aesthetically glorious and is a great leveller too: anyone can have a go.”
The learners at Blueberry Academy chose, organised, and pressed their posters. “We spent a summer interfusing innovation and traditional printing techniques,” says Greg. “The learners curated a series of their posters to complement the beautiful Giclée posters designed by Choir of Vision, culled from tweets from members of the public reacting to York’s UNESCO status as #CityofMediaArts.
“Some loved it, some hated it. Either way, the posters were in gallant company with the letterpress posters.
“When it came to the job of imbuing all tweets and slogans with a Jedi-esque digital power, we worked once more with light installation artist Nick Walters. According To McGee became for three weeks a refulgent, futuristic spaceship, all the while building its glorious swagger on slogans written by York’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Ails adds: “Nick was amazing. He was fascinated by the tweets created by the learners, as well as by the nature of Twitter itself. He built his installation around a bird cage, complete with origami birds, so that when the tweets were projected though it, the messages would refract through the birds and glitter ball, radiating around the gallery and through the front window, beneath the black shadow of Clifford’s Tower.
“It was great to receive the award from Mark Addy at the Culture Awards too.”
SKA legend Horace Panter provided the Pop Art and star quality as the gallery caused an international splash by kickstarting the 80th birthday celebrations of The Beano comic.
“It was a very light-hearted exhibition, but there was no mistaking the characters’ punk credentials. Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx were disruptors before Johnny Rotten was born!” says Greg.
“To have Horace Panter, who was so instrumental in kickstarting ska-punk with The Specials, mediate the characters through his own Pop Art filter was hugely exciting, relevant, and irreverent.
“We had Dennis and Gnasher diving into Hockney’s LA swimming pool; Minnie the Minx as a Warholian starlet and Lord Snooty in a Lichenstein frame, complete with Ben Day dots.
“The Bash Street Kids invaded the high art world of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Collectors from all over the UK attended the opening and we sold massive originals and more limited editions than Gnasher has had sausages.”
Hello There! Banksy, Grayson Perry, Vic Reeves, and Dscreet, 2019
“IT was just before the pandemic, when a collector friend of ours donated world-class art, including pieces by heavyweights Banksy, Vic Reeves (aka Jim Moir), Grayson Perry and urban artist Dscreet,” says Greg. “We thought we’d launch it as we would any other exhibition, but this art was just so instantly collectible, it sold straight away via phone calls.”
Ails adds: “It was a weekend event that was over too soon. It was a shot in the arm in that it brought us to a wider audience and reminded us that investing in globally collectible art is a serious business.”
Painting: Figures Underground And Imagined, Dave Pearson and ex-miner Harry Malkin 2019; The Return Of The Painter, 2016-2022
“DIGITAL art and poetry are great, but ultimately our raison d’être is contemporary painting,” says Ails. “In the case of Dave Pearson, who died in 2008 of cancer, his art is especially poignant. The Guardian has him as ‘a great British painter’, BBC Radio 4 as ‘the greatest painter we never knew’. Internationally respected art critic Edward Lucie-Smith hails him as a ‘really major artist’.
“Credit must go to the Dave Pearson Trust, who initially rescued his studio in Haslingden and continue with it as their full-time job to organise his art, with experts applauding their hard work and declaring that the collection is worth more than £1 million.”
According To McGee’s collaboration with the trust will continue to grow. “We’ve worked with them for years, and in 2019 we threw a new synergy into the mix.
“Ex-miner and full-time artist Harry Malkin creates contemporary painting that can hold its own alongside Dave’s, providing counterpoints and consolidations all the while.
“Harry Malkin’s first-hand depictions of mining are the finest in the UK, endowing torchlit moments of toil with a muscular theatricality. Cheeks and eye sockets are ink black, shoulders are slick crescents, and amid the trembling chiaroscuro, the figures quicken and bristle in their brutal work.
“Their poise and movement are perfectly calibrated with the instinct and knowledge hewn from many decades’ worth of witnessing and working more than one mile deep underground.”
Ails concludes: “Painting has never been more needed, and with the likes of Amrik Varkalis, David Baumforth, Freya Horsley, Chantal Barnes Julia Poulton at the forefront, the medium is showing no signs of letting up soon.”
YORK gallery According To McGee launches its Return Of The Painter 2022 series with a duo exhibition by painters Kimbal Bumstead and Simon Crawford.
Gallery co-directors Greg and Ails McGee have opted to put the emphasis on scale and colour. “But it’s not just the ‘wow’ factor,” says Ails. “There are deeper meanings behind the collections of Kimbal and Simon. This, and the fact that their latest paintings dovetail so well with each other, means that the time is right to hand over the reins to both of these fascinating artists.”
Bumstead and Crawford are synchronising their creativity for the first time for this show’s run from Saturday until Monday, April 4 at the Tower Street gallery.
Bumstead, new to York but with years of experience of painting under his belt, brings a new energy to the gallery buoyed by exhibiting in Sheffield, Tokyo, Amsterdam and at the Mall Galleries in London, as well as teaching abstract art classes with York Learning.
“It’s really thrilling to be an artist,” he says. “My job is to bring things into existence that weren’t there before, and I use colour and mark-making to get there. But there are other aspects too. These paintings aren’t just experiments in colour, nor are they just expressions of feelings, they are also explorations of journeys into other worlds.”
The Kimbal Bumstead collection, Segments Of Journeys, hangs on the wall of the front gallery opposite Clifford’s Tower, where they “pulse and shimmer, suggesting memories and half-formed ideas”.
“The subject matter isn’t fixed, it’s yet to be defined,” says Bumstead. “If the idea of journeying is the building block of the painting, the overarching theme is that there’s no destination.
“I love the process of trying to let go and getting lost in the painting. That’s a positive to me and reflects on how I live my life. Stuff happens, you navigate it, and hopefully you enjoy the process.
“I like trying to see a street differently each time I walk down it, and the same goes for my paintings. Each time I look at them, I find something new, something I hadn’t noticed before.”
Bumstead points to the intersecting colours and mark making on the surfaces of his paintings, with some strokes sliding into areas that had been painted much earlier. “It’s like landscapes,” he says. “I like how a landscape in real life has different layers. Physical layers, ideas that people project, memories, different stories, traces of the old next to the new. It’s something I’m really keen on capturing.”
Explaining further, he says: “It’s not dissimilar to experiencing York as a city. On the one hand, you see what’s on the surface, the old buildings next to new ones, but then there’s another world, the one you have to imagine, the one where different stories have taken place and settled like sediment. That’s really the case with this collection; there is not just one way of seeing it.”
Gallery co-director Greg says: “It’s heavy stuff, but at its heart it’s an antidote to the current obsession with targets and data. This is less harnessing data and more harnessing dreams, which is a priority in most artists’ manifestos.”
On the opposite wall hangs Cool Shade And Hot Light, the new collection by Knaresborough artist Simon Crawford. “In terms of scope and vividity, the collections complement each other, with Simon’s approach perhaps more relatively literal in his depictions of his experiences,” says Greg.
Crawford’s work comes in response to his travels in India. “To call it a ‘life-changing experience’ is to underestimate it,” he says. “It brought me new textures and colours, and I have been trying to skewer them in my palette and on the surface of my canvases since. I think this collection is a true representation of what I saw and how I saw it.”
After exhibitions in Dean Clough galleries in Halifax, Moscow galleries and Messums North, he brings his impressionistic portraits of India to According To McGee, much to Greg’s delight.
“What’s especially great is that when Simon now turns his attention to northern subject matters, he filters his depictions through the conduit of tropical heat, so that you get Rievaulx Abbey endowed with the glittering humidity of an Indian jungle,” he says.
“It’s witty and sensual, and it’s exactly what we’re looking for in our search for more excellent painters to represent. Simon’s use of colour is instantly recognisable, and it’s humbling to see he’s showing no signs of backing down.”
Ails adds: “The Punjabi palette seems to work really well with our collectors, especially here in the north. Whether it’s from Simon or Kimbal, or from McGee favourites like Amrik Varkalis, a fearless celebration of hot colour connects with clients. Whether that’s down to the general doom and gloom of our times, or the drizzly weather, we haven’t worked out yet!
“But we’ve worked hard on curating this exhibition, helped in no small way by Emma Storkey, Emmanuelle Butler and George Clarke, who, as Year 10 students from All Saints School, have spent ten days on work experience with us.”
Return Of The Painter 2022: Kimbal Bumstead and Simon Crawford launches at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, on Saturday at 12 noon and closes on April 4. Gallery opening hours: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm; Saturdays, 11am to 4pm; or by appointment on 07973 653702.
YORK gallery According To McGee introduces a new painter and illustrator to their growing stable of artists this weekend for the Hyperrealism in America and Japan show.
Imogen Hawgood, from County Durham, brings her collection of realist paintings to Tower Street for a duo show with Pop artist and Ska legend Horace Panter, The Specials’ bassist.
“The inaugural aspect is important to the gallery as we continue to celebrate our 17th anniversary,” says co-director Greg McGee. “We’ve been blessed to run an art gallery in such a wonderful city through so many triumphant and difficult times.
“The worst thing to do is fossilise and rely on our biggest sellers. The beauty of York is that, as a city with so much heritage, there’s a huge market for all things contemporary, and we’ve always tried to engage with that.”
Horace Panter and his hyper-art is no stranger to the McGees. “I’ve been working with According To McGee for a number of years now and am delighted to be bringing Americana and Japanese street scenes to this exhibition with Imogen,” he says.
Panter’s slices of punk-infused realism are instantly recognisable on the gallery’s white walls. “From Edward Hopper-inspired depictions of Midwest motels to the inner-lit thrum of Japanese kiosks and sun-warmed Coca-Cola crates, his collection complements perfectly Imogen’s art, which explores the icons of Americana and the idea of ‘the road’ as a transitional and symbolic landscape,” says Greg.
Hawgood’s focus has turned to American landscapes and roadside imagery, together with experimentation with light leaks and colour effects. “Imogen spent some time in Los Angeles and is now lasering in on the American Dream, with its mythic allure of the West,” says gallery co-director Ails McGee.
“Viewers will see that her work is instantly cinematic. There’s the composition and lighting that feels really filmic and looks iconic and stylish, like a modern Hopper. Depictions of Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema help hammer home this vibe.”
Imogen says: “The freedom of the American open road has been a powerful image for generations on both sides of the Atlantic, representing for some self-discovery, for others a path to redemption.
“Through the use of my own photography, as well as found footage, the images I create juxtapose an air of nostalgia with contemporary viewpoints. I often use the interior of a car as a frame through which to view a passing landscape and try to capture a sense of movement through my composition and use of colour and lighting.”
While working on new images, Hawgood works up ideas by using a thumbnailing process influenced by film storyboarding. “Film is an important source of inspiration across many areas of my practice, influencing my choices across composition, colour and lighting,” she says,
“I’m particularly drawn by stark lighting traditionally used in film noir, and more contemporary takes on this genre, like the neon chaos of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir Blade Runner.
“Thematically, I’m also inspired by films such as Easy Rider, Thelma And Louise and Kalifornia; examples of narratives which also question the allure of the road and where it may lead.”
Hawgood has exhibited in the New Light exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery and at the Holt Festival in Norfolk. In 2020 she was shortlisted for the ING Discerning Eye, John Hurt and Sworders art prizes; last year she was highly commended in the watercolour category at the Broadway Arts Festival competition. Overseas, her work has been shown at the Vestige Concept Gallery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Ails concludes: “Horace Panter has taken his position in the pantheon of UK Pop artists. His contribution to the cultural landscape is indisputable, so it’s especially exciting to introduce Imogen to our collectors in this way.
“When established artists are in such proximity to rising stars, it can really make a gallery’s walls zing. This is a great result, not only for York’s cultural life, but also for the north, and we’re looking forward to seeing existing collectors and meeting new collectors this weekend.”
Horace Panter and Imogen Hawgood’s Hyperrealism in America and Japan exhibition runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from March 12 to 25.
Gallery opening hours are: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm; Saturday, 11am to 4pm; or by appointment on 07973 653702.
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.”
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.
“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.’’
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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].
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.