RETURN of the Mc could not have gone better for Ails McGee, whose “comeback” exhibition at According To McGee sold out at yesterday’s launch in York.
Gallery co-director Ails unveiled Return Of The Painter: The Sea, The Sky, The City from midday to 4pm as the ebullient Tower Street art space welcomed browsers for the first time since the Covid-enforced shutdown on March 23.
“Thanks to everyone who came today,” Ails and fellow director Greg McGee tweeted afterwards. “The paintings of @AilsMcGee connected with collectors and are now sold out. She is taking commissions and is preparing for the next group exhibition. We open next Saturday. Come see us!”
Ahead of the launch, Ails said: “This is our 16th year anniversary, and we had innovative plans with big innovative events to celebrate. Performances, installations, digitally illuminated projections: it was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, but all of that was kicked into the long grass in March. Since then, I’ve gone back to the drawing board, so to speak.”
So much so, Ails has picked up her paint brushes again, in part inspired to do so by “parsimonious proposals from politicians on essential exercise”.
“I remember thinking while I was alone in the middle of Rowntree Park at midday, there were certain people who would have reported me to the police,” she says. “It was a hard time to go outside and watch the season change. I don’t have much memory of seeing the cherry blossom this year as it was a complicated thing just to go outside and enjoy nature. So, I thought to myself, if I can’t experience the real thing, why not paint it?”
Before establishing the According To McGee gallery with her husband and business partner Greg McGee in 2004, Ails was a successful painter, exhibiting in her native Kelso in the Scottish Borders and around Yorkshire.
Her painterly arc flattened with the arrival of children – “three under three years old at one point,” she says – and her forays into charity work and The Artillery art enterprise. Now, however, the arid aspects of Covid have helped Ails focus on how important painting is to her.
“It’s everything. It forces you to see more clearly and, though it can be frustrating trying to harness what you see – all those shades, curves and colours – it’s the mixture of poetry, prophecy and religion that is so empowering and addictive,” she says.
Painting in lockdown has been “very liberating” as Ails built on her experiences of nature in the Borders, this time basing her compositions on the visual power and bitter beauty of the North East coast.
“It’s funny, seascapes come with the unfair caveat that they’re twee and calming, but it’s the opposite of that which intoxicates me and which I hope I am beginning to harness in my paintings,” she says. “The sea can be savage and changeful, on the point of bursting into full bloom, but in a painting it’s rarely twee.”
Bringing her new seascape collection to the commercial market after her hiatus does not unnerve Ails, “It’s the perfect time,” she argues. “I’m in good company: Freya Horsely and David Baumforth are internationally well-regarded masters of their craft in this field and, to be honest, I’ve already made some pre-exhibition sales.
“So, I’m in a very fortunate position. I’m producing paintings, I get to hang them in my gallery, and I’m selling them to collectors who enjoy the visuals of a sea in constant change.”
The difficulties of running a gallery under the shadow of Covid are surmountable, reckons Ails. “We’re launching with a day-long happening,” she said before yesterday’s event. “The gallery won’t be too busy at any given point, we have the attendant sanitisers, and we’re happy to welcome anyone who wants to come: old friends, artists, clients, collectors, new collectors,” she says. “Quarantine has cut culture short for too long. We can’t wait to get back in the groove.”
weekend should have been spent visiting other people’s homes, not staying home.
This weekend too.
This is not
a cabin-fevered call for a foolhardy Trumpian dropping of the guard on
Covid-19, but a forlorn wish that York Open Studios 2020 could have been just
that: York Open Studios. Instead, they will be York Shut Studios.
in the absence of the opportunity to meet 144 artists at 100 locations,
banished by the Coronavirus lockdown,
CharlesHutchPress is determinedly championing the creativity of York’s artists
and makers, who would have been showcasing their ceramics, collage, digital,
illustration, jewellery, mixed media, painting, print, photography, sculpture
and textiles skills.
in brochure order, a handful of artists who now miss out on the exposure of
Open Studios are being given a pen portrait on these pages, because so much art
and craft will have been created for the event and still needs a new home. Home
and studio addresses will not be included at this lockdown time.
York Open Studios artists are finding their own way to respond to the shutdown
by filling their windows with their work instead. Look for #openwindowsyork2020
to locate them. “If you see one in your area while taking your daily exercise,
take a picture and let us know,” they say.
look out for plenty of the 144 artists still showcasing their work over the
York Open Studios period online. Visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk to take
your own virtual tour.
The website says: “We’re
doing a Virtual Open Studios, with artists posting based on a daily theme for
the ten days spanning our two weekends. They’ll be showing you their studios
and workshops, favourite processes, answering your questions, and of course
lots of pictures of their new work!
#YorkOpenStudios anywhere on social media or follow your favourite artists to
First, however, here are six more artists and makers for you to discover…
Monica Marshall, mixed media, student
EMERGING artist Monica
is a fine art student at York St John University, where her practice centres on
coping with life and the psyche, and how this is affected by Asperger Syndrome.
“I explore the complexity
of emotion and the subconscious through the use of text and expressionist mark-making
in a variety of media, primarily through drawing, painting and printmaking,”
In her experimental art,
she plays with scale, distortion and using colour to convey certain emotions. “My work is mostly monochromatic, combining text alongside self-portraits
and other characters,” says Monica. “The results communicate a powerful message
while retaining elements of humour.”
She takes inspiration from German Expressionism, Surrealism and
outsider art. “In regard to media, I am very open-minded and experimental. My
preferred medium is usually printmaking, using a colour scheme consisting
primarily of red, green, black and white, as well as oil painting on a large
scale,” says Monica, who divides her time between York and Brighton.
“When I’m not scribbling, painting and/or hiding in the print
room, I enjoy finding and photographing monkey puzzle trees – otherwise known
as Araucaria Araucana, penury, Chilean pines and an assortment of other aliases
– as well as writing poetry, prose and short stories.”
This was to have been Monica’s first year as a York Open Studios artist. Discover more at monicamarshallblog.wordpress.com.
Richard Barnes, painting
RICHARD’s distinctive, dazzling work in York and London has focused on drawing and photographing the cities as the light fades.
“I record the sounds,
movement, architecture and atmosphere of the ancient buildings within a modern
context,” he says of his cityscapes. “Our brains are bombarded with digital
information; the resultant paintings explore a reality beyond this facade.”
His cityscapes are ever evolving.
“I am looking to highlight the sensations of life and light, movement and
stillness, the changing and new juxtaposed with the permanent and prevailing
For contrast, he paints
Yorkshire landscapes. “In my landscapes, the idea is to escape the noise and to
respond to a natural but often equally dramatic environment,” says Richard.
Living in York since
1984, working as both an artist and art teacher, he completed his PhD in 2006,
exploring the use of digital intervention within a traditional, intuitive
Now, the development of Richard’s images often involves drawing; photographing; printing; working on top of this print; re-photographing; re-printing; re-working, many times over, “until a final image is arrived at that captures the visual and tactile nature of the experience of being in a particular place, at that particular time.” Visit richardofyork.com for further insights.
Emily Harper-Gustafsson, painting
BOOTHAM School art
teacher Emily creates delicate and contemplative paintings that seek to capture
small moments in space and time.
“Familiar objects are
transformed by the use of negative space and subtle subversions of traditional
perspective,” she says.
“My paintings attempt to
render the apparently everyday and mundane a matter for epiphany, contemplation
Emily can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freya Horsley, painting
TAKING landscape and
seascape as her starting point, whether in Yorkshire, Europe, the Himalayas or
Canada, Freya’s abstract paintings focus on transient effects of light and
weather and the changes they bring to the face of land and sea.
Whether drawing on the
spot outside in the landscape or painting larger works back in the studio, she
uses a wide variety of materials and experimental processes to create her
surfaces and atmospheric effects.
“I’m increasingly exploring
in greater depth the relationship between what is being painted and how it
comes about, how much is real place and how much painted space,” Freya says.
“In the first stages of a
painting, I pour and drip very liquid paint, manipulating it by tilting and
moving the support on the floor and easel. Gradually I refine this process, responding
to the marks and to my own sense of the space that emerges.
“I also often use wax,
collage and other media, alongside the veils of thin acrylic and oil paint, to
explore these different levels of looking and ways of experiencing a place and
Based in York, Freya exhibits in Yorkshire, London, the North West, Lancaster and Cornwall. She was to have shown her work at Bootham School, as usual, at York Open Studios, and still in her diary is Coast, at Porthminster Gallery, St Ives, Cornwall, from June 13 to September 5. Take a look at freyahorsley.com.
Benn Jackson, painting
BENN’S practice involves experimenting with a range
of processes that never end or finish, pushed through different methods to
create something different.
“The ‘process’ refers to the process of the
formation of art: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, patterning,
and moreover the initiation of actions,” says Benn.
“’Process’ explores the way the artist forms
decisions. With my practice, I aim to push ideas through a range of unorthodox
methods to create a new body of work.”
That work, spanning print, collage and painting, would have been exhibited at York Open Studios for the first time. Check him out at instagram.com/jelly-benn.
Jelena Lunge, drawing
JELENA’s work is concept
and progress driven. “Using pen and ink, I draw inspiration from people,
emotion and nature,” she says. “Mostly I create drawings that are
thought provoking and illusory.”
Jelena graduated from Vilnius Academy of Arts, in Lithuania, with
a BA in sculpture and qualified as an art teacher. Her drawings have been shown
at international exhibitions in the Baltic States, Russia, Ukraine, the Czech
Republic, Germany, the USA and the UK.
“I now live and work in York, where I display and sell my work
from creative spaces and galleries,” says Jelena, who last year exhibited at
City Screen; York Explore library; Angel on the Green; Naburn Lock; Spark: York;
Clements Hall and the Golden Ball pub.
“My drawing combines portrait form with the abstract, incorporating symbolism with touches of fantasy,” she says. More info at jelenalunge.com.
TOMORROW: Sarah Raphael-Balme; Lesley Seeger; Evie Leach; Ric Liptrot; Katrina Mansfield and Kitty Pennybacker.