Like father, like daughter, as Richard and Chantal Barnes return to York for According To McGee’s farewell to Tower Street show UPDATED 29/07/2022

Golden Memory Of York, by Richard Barnes, at According To McGee

AFTER 17 years, York contemporary gallery According To McGee is to close its Tower Street doors in September.

Acomb husband and wife and business duo Greg and Ails McGee are looking forward to the next stage but in the meantime they are “ready to go out with an incendiary confetti of contemporary collectibles”, as Greg puts it.

“Every chapter comes to an end,” says Ails, “And before we launch Part Two, we thought let’s finish our tenure at Tower Street by going full circle. We started back in 2005 with a Richard Barnes show, and I had just finished teaching his daughter Chantal Barnes as an A-Level student at Huntington School.

“Chantal is now an internationally sought-after artist and has work appearing in Vogue magazine, while Richard has retired from teaching art at Bootham School and is now a full-time painter after moving south from York.” 

Richard Barnes delivers the new Barnes + Barnes collections to the According To McGee curatorial team, Nell Bannister and Rhys Davies Brackett

Barnes at the double opened over the weekend. “This is a victory lap for us,” says Greg. “We are in many ways going back to our source with Richard’s York cityscapes, but the art scene in York has changed so much, and the paintings of both Barneses are now so collectible, that though we’re tipping the hat to our first exhibition, we’re much more excited about the here and now.

“The York that Richard paints feels very contemporary, very now, and the idiosyncratic vigour with which Chantal pushes paint around is a wholly new visual idea.”

Richard moved to “just north of London” a little over a year ago. “Both my daughters had had babies – on the same day in the same hospital! – and we were going up and down the country to see them,” he says, explaining the move south.

“I also think the experience of lockdown made us think about moving, giving me a new challenge of building a studio in the back garden. That’s been an exciting adventure, building it from scratch, with views out over the Chilterns.

“I’ve always thought of York as this incredibly exceptional place, and I’ve tried to make it magical in my paintings,” says Richard Barnes. Witness Magical Monk Bar, one of his new works at According To McGee

“It’s my absolute dream, having had all those experiences of painting for so long. I’ve designed it just right for painting big paintings – it’s like the length of a New York loft, but it’s not a warehouse! – and I’m able to paint paintings up to 16ft by 8ft.”

All Richard’s works on show are being exhibited for the first time, some developed from initial drawings in lockdown, some painted since leaving the city. “During lockdown, I was still in York. When it was completely empty, I’d walk into York city centre in the early morning, around six o’clock, and set up by the Minster,” he says.

“It was the most remarkable experience, where you could even hear the echo from the Minster walls of the birds flying by. It was like walking on an empty beach; a sensation you don’t ever experience in York.

“Painting by the Minster at that time made you much more aware that you were only there in this world for a brief moment, but the Minster had been there forever. That was a big influence on me wanting to do one last York hurrah, even though the paintings are in the same style as before.”

“The idiosyncratic vigour with which Chantal Barnes pushes paint around is a wholly new visual idea,” says According To McGee co-director Greg McGee

Richard still feels the magnetic pull of York. “There’s that yearning for a place when you leave, and I’m like that about York,” he says. “When I go back to do some drawings, I feel so drawn to it, having spent most of my artistic life there.

“I’ve always thought of York as this incredibly exceptional place, and I’ve tried to make it magical in my paintings. Leaving York has made it feel even more so. Getting there takes less than two hours on the train, and it’s now like a place of memory for me.  Because I’ve painted it so often, I wanted to capture that in one last exhibition for Greg and Ails.”

Greg looks back fondly over the McGees’ Tower Street years, not least Richard’s impact. “Richard really helped to galvanise our business plan back in 2005, which was at that point a general desire to exhibit exciting art. He helped distil that down into an irreducible manifesto.

“Go primarily for paintings, paintings that are instantly recognisable as being from the McGee stable. Grab the attention of passers-by, paint the gallery front yellow, which, although a Choir of Vision inception, had its roots in the initial vision Richard helped us shape.

Chantal Barnes at work on a painting

“Since then, we’ve exhibited Elaine Thomas CBE; Dave Pearson; ska legend Horace Panter, of The Specials. We’ve had exhibitions officially opened by Sir Ian Botham, when we launched art from Dubai celebrity artist Jim Wheat; 1960s’ painter and friend of The Beatles Doug Binder has had solo shows here.

“It’s been a wild and fulfilling ride here, opposite York’s most recognisable landmark [Clifford’s Tower], but the time has come to leave the building, and we’re doing it in style with Barnes + Barnes.”

Contemporary Painting: Barnes + Barnes’ straddles According To McGee’s past as gallerists but looks forward too. “As an exhibition, it transcends this building, and so we’ll be ready to run it again in the future,” vows Greg.

“Where that will be, we can’t yet say, but that unpredictability, with the liberty and excitement that come with it, was the reason we got into running an art gallery in the first place. This exhibition reflects that. As soon as Chapter II emerges over the horizon, we’ll let you know.”

In turn keen to praise the McGees – who started their gallery under the name of The ArtSpace – Richard says: “Greg and Ails have made an exceptional contribution to the city’s contemporary art scene.

Greg and Ails McGee: One chapter is closing for According To McGee but another will open

“York is often seen through a traditional lens, but they have taken a bold approach by exhibiting all sorts of artists, and their first reason for exhibiting any artist hasn’t been for commercial potential but because they loved the work.

“They have taken that risk, and for someone to do that, to just say ‘let’s give this a go’, has made a huge impact on York’s art world. They could easily have played to the tourists, but they have steadfastly not done that.

“They’ve given so many artists a show who have gone on to be very successful. They always look to support artists, and because they’re very independent minded they don’t seek Arts Council backing, but artists reciprocate their support by wanting to exhibit there.”

Daughter Chantal is one such artist. Born and bred in York, she attended Huntington School, where her art teacher just happened to be a certain Ails McGee. “She really loved the vibe of the art department,” recalls Richard.

“She then studied Fine Art, Film and Television at Aberystwyth, graduating with a First, and supported her travels around the world with her painting, before becoming a successful television producer.

Artwork from the Barnes + Barnes exhibition by Chantal Barnes

“But during lockdown she realised she wanted to commit more fully to painting, and winning a prize at a North York Moors National Park exhibition [at the Inspired By…Gallery in Danby] encouraged her even more.”

Chantal began to paint abstract works to complement her landscapes and portraiture. “She’s been influenced by her experiences in North Yorkshire, painting the coast, and she’s had plenty of success in London, working with galleries and doing commissions, and in the States too,” says Richard,

“Her studio is very near mine and now our relationship is not just being her dad but being another artist too. The nice thing is that we can go to exhibitions together [in London] and she’s really in tune with much more contemporary work!”

For Barnes + Barnes, they have painted one work together of Wast Water in the Lake District. “The reason we chose there was because we did a joint exhibition with my mother in aid of Water Relief in Africa, and my mother had painted Wast Water for that show,” says Richard.

“As a tribute to her, Chantal and I went back to Wast Water to paint from the same viewpoint. We were hoping for one of those glorious, beautiful, sun-lit Lakes days, but it was one of those equally glorious, dark but spectacularly gloomy days!”

Seek out the resulting painting in Contemporary Painting: Barnes + Barnes, running at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, until Sunday, September 25.

Greg and Ails McGee stand beside the bright yellow facade they introduced to According To McGee in 2018

 

Like father, like daughter, as Richard and Chantal Barnes return to York for According To McGee’s farewell to Tower Street show

Golden Memory Of York, by Richard Barnes

AFTER 17 years, York contemporary gallery According To McGee is to close its Tower Street doors in September.

Acomb husband and wife and business duo Greg and Ails McGee are looking forward to the next stage but in the meantime they are “ready to go out with an incendiary confetti of contemporary collectibles”, as Greg puts it.

“Every chapter comes to an end,” says Ails, “And before we launch Part Two, we thought let’s finish our tenure at Tower Street by going full circle. We started back in 2005 with a Richard Barnes show, and I had just finished teaching his daughter Chantal Barnes as an A-Level student at Huntington School.

“The idiosyncratic vigour with which Chantal Barnes pushes paint around is a wholly new visual idea,” says According To McGee co-director Greg McGee

“Chantal is now an internationally sought-after artist and has work appearing in Vogue magazine, while Richard has retired from teaching at Bootham School and is now a full-time painter after moving south from York.” 

Barnes at the double goes on show at According To McGee today. “This is a victory lap for us,” says Greg. “We are in many ways going back to our source with Richard’s York cityscapes, but the art scene in York has changed so much, and the paintings of both Barneses are now so collectible, that though we’re tipping the hat to our first exhibition, we’re much more excited about the here and now.

“The York that Richard paints feels very contemporary, very now, and the idiosyncratic vigour with which Chantal pushes paint around is a wholly new visual idea.”

Richard Barnes delivers the new Barnes + Barnes collections to the According To McGee curatorial team, Nell Bannister and Rhys Davies Brackett

Greg looks back fondly over the McGees’ Tower Street years. “Richard really helped to galvanise our business plan back in 2005, which was at that point a general desire to exhibit exciting art. He helped distil that down into an irreducible manifesto.

“Go primarily for paintings, paintings that are instantly recognisable as being from the McGee stable. Grab the attention of passers-by, paint the gallery front yellow, which, although a Choir of Vision inception, had its roots in the initial vision Richard helped us shape.

“Since then, we’ve exhibited Elaine Thomas CBE; Dave Pearson; ska legend Horace Panter, of The Specials. We’ve had exhibitions officially opened by Sir Ian Botham, when we launched art from Dubai celebrity artist Jim Wheat; 1960s’ painter and friend of The Beatles Doug Binder has had solo shows here.

Magical Monk Bar, by Richard Barnes

“It’s been a wild and fulfilling ride here, opposite York’s most recognisable landmark [Clifford’s Tower], but the time has come to leave the building, and we’re doing it in style with Barnes + Barnes.”

Contemporary Painting: Barnes + Barnes’ straddles According To McGee’s past as gallerists but also looks forward. “As an exhibition, it transcends this building, and so we’ll be ready to run it again in the future,” vows Greg.

“Where that will be, we can’t yet say, but that unpredictability, with the liberty and excitement that come with it, was the reason we got into running an art gallery in the first place. This exhibition reflects that. As soon as Chapter II emerges over the horizon, we’ll let you know.”

Contemporary Painting: Barnes + Barnes runs from today (23/7/2022) to Sunday, September 25, at According To McGee, Tower Street, York. For more information, visit www.accordingtomcgee.com

Chantal Barnes at work on a painting

Attraction of opposites permeates Freya Horsley and David Finnigan’s Elementals and Synthesis show at According To McGee

Everything in modulation: Scarborough artist David Finnigan with his Synthesis works at According To McGee

ACCORDING To McGee plays host to a “double happening”, Contemporary Painting: Elementals and Synthesis by Freya Horsley and David Finnigan, from this weekend in York.

Co-director Greg McGee sees the summer exhibition as an opportunity to reaffirm the Tower Street gallery’s manifesto. “Not so much a duo show, more like two exhibitions in one gallery,” he says. “Freya Horsley and David Finnigan are far removed in terms of subject and mark making, but there’s enough intersection to be able to build an event like this.

“Their common ground is a fearlessness with what contemporary painting can do, and we find that the proximity of both collections in the same gallery not only augments the collections respectively, but also highlights the strengths of each other.

Out Of Darkness, mixed media, by Freya Horsley

“There are flickering moments in all of the paintings here, and a lot of the magic is found in the disparate synergy”.

Elementals and Synthesis is “like nothing According To McGee has exhibited previously in its 17 years”, reckons Greg. “We’re used to dovetailing the collections of painters who share similar visions, whereas this time we have really gone for a discrepancy that cracks open not only the magic of the paintings we have here, but says something about painting in general.”

David Finnigan’s Synthesis is characteristically exact, although he is at pains to highlight how his art has evolved. “These four works represent, for me, a change in the direction of my working practice,” says the Scarborough hyperrealist. 

“While they retain some of the exactitude and realism of my previous work, there’s more of a painterly feel to these new pieces. Also, a new aesthetic, which exhibits an expressive freedom within the confines of realist painting. 

Low Pitch, by David Finnigan, from his Synthesis series

“They embrace some of the techniques I’ve learned and developed in my other non-visual creative outlets, particularly from the world of sound.”

Not only a looser approach to the confines of realist painting is applied, but so are an amalgamation and superimposition of separate geometric compositions over the existing realist composition. 

“These geometric abstractions function aesthetically in their own right, and they have a force and a dynamic that adds energy,” says David. “Visually, in isolation, these geometric compositions echo the work of the constructivists, the suprematists, or even futurism and vorticism from the early 20th century.

“Added together with the realist composition, they ‘modulate’ the existing work, changing the dynamic through the use of the aforementioned energy, but equally importantly through the use of colour, which is a very powerful tool. The now superimposed compositions, ‘modulate’ each other.”

Dolphin Hotel, by David Finnigan

Regarding the concept of “modulation”, David sees a simple parallel in the world of sound with the technique of FM or “Frequency Modulation” synthesis – which, as a side note, powered the soundscape of 1980’s pop and rock music. 

“Simply put, in ‘FM’ synthesis, one waveform modulates the other wave to create something new. This is what I’m attempting visually,” he says.

“Another important parallel is the idea of ‘glitch’, a sub-genre of electronic music that became popular in the 1990s, but actually its origins again can be traced back all the way to futurism, specifically with  Luigi Russolo’s piece The Art Of Noises.

“Here again, I attempt to apply the concept of ‘glitch’ visually to these compositions, in which, as in music – where the beat and order of the music is broken and reprocessed so some feeling of order remains – I would like to break up the surface of the two superimposed compositions to break up the order and reprocess it to create something new that has a different rhythm.”

York artist Freya Horsley with her Elementals works at According To McGee

Freya Horsley’s return to According To McGee comes after a sell-out exhibition of the York artist’s winter collection of elemental seascapes. “They were huge!” says gallery co-director Ails McGee, “They were the biggest paintings we have ever exhibited here, and that’s some claim.

“But they connected well with browsers and clients alike, with one going to a collector’s house in Poppleton and one travelling all the way to Glasgow.”

Freya’s depictions of the sea and land resonate still more in our era of nature’s curtailment. “The sheer scale of some of the paintings has only added to that,” says Ails.

Until We’re Seen, by Freya Horsley

Freya’s new Elementals series builds on her trademark bristling light and spray but Ails point to new developments too. “Freya has always, from time to time, primed her canvasses with neon paint, which helps to endow her otherwise layered sense of peace and serenity with a bounce and inner-lit joy,” she says.

“This time, the joy she skewers comes from a wild attack of neon paint on top of the tender and elemental background, rather than beneath it; a technique most obvious in her massive work Out Of Darkness. It’s a radical step for her and really amps up the wide-eyed sense of wonder that Elementals celebrates.”

Asked to predict the next direction of Contemporary Painting’s evolution, Greg points to Finnigan’s paintings. “These are painted in egg tempera. That’s something that goes back thousands of years and was used in ancient times. It fell into disuse with the popularisation of oil painting in Europe in the 15th century,” he says.

“But now David is using it with a showman’s chutzpah. So, is this retro, or is this radical and contemporary? It feels a little like when a rock band performs an ‘MTV Unplugged’ session. There’s nowhere to hide but in the quality of the songs, and in a multimedia age, there’s something radical in that.”

Bee-Bop, by David Finnigan

David agrees: “In my eyes it has the capacity to be beautiful and elegant, in the medium itself,” he says. “It is egg yolk, water and pigment and, if non-toxic pigments are used, completely inert. But it is also beautiful and elegant in the aesthetic effect of the finished work itself. 

 “In our modern day of awareness of sustainability and our ever-increasing eco-friendly approaches to life in general, egg tempera actually fits in well with these philosophies, and maybe it will have its day in the sun again.”

Contemporary Painting: Elementals and Synthesis by Freya Horsley and David Finnigan runs from Saturday, June 18 to Monday, July 11 at According To McGee, Tower Street, York; open Monday to Saturday, 12 noon to 4pm.

For more information on David Finnigan: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/david-finnigan; Freya Horsley, accordingtomcgee.com/collections/freya-horsley

This Day, by Freya Horsley

‘My aim is to create art that seems incomplete, impermanent and imperfect,’ says sculptor Janie Stevens as According To McGee exhibition opens this weekend

Sculptor Janie Stevens, flanked by According to McGee co-directors Greg and Ails McGee

ACCORDING To McGee launches its series of Affirmations exhibitions with a fusion of ceramics and sculpture tomorrow (8/1/2022).

“We’re still all about the paintings,” says Ails McGee, co-director of the gallery in Tower Street, York. “I’ve been working on my own series of Still Lifes; Beth Ross is here, David Baumforth, Horace Panter too, but we just thought the blank slate of 2022 merited a new approach and so we have some new 3D items.”

They take the form of a ceramic collection from David Austin Duckworth and the latest forms from celebrated sculptor Janie Stevens, who lives just outside York.

Part of Janie Stevens’ sculptural paean to simplicity, Imperfect

“What was important was to kick off the year with art that is for the most part positive and aspirational,” says Ails. “The front gallery is a battle-cry for the positive values of art. Art often throws the cultural equivalent of a Molotov cocktail into contemporary life, but it can also simply reflect what’s aspirational and optimistic.

“Sculptor Janie Stevens launches Imperfect, a sculptural paean to simplicity. It’s her collection of sculptures that greets the visitor in our front gallery and we’re delighted to be widening our remit with work such as this.”

Yorkshire-born Janie says: “Direct carving is a way of freeing the spirit, both my own and the spirit of the stone. I really enjoy observing how the stone changes as the light falls – pure alchemy! My work is hand carved, original and, above all, tactile. Sculpture is not just for the eyes.”

Artist Harry Malkin with Ails McGee at According To McGee in 2019

She encourages connecting with the natural stone through touching, feeling and stroking a sculpture too.

“I take inspiration from Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Tony Cragg,” says Janie, who works with local quarried stone, both in limestone and soapstone. “I’m driven by shape, tactility and emotion; three-dimensional form excites me as I continually test my understanding of the natural world.

“My aim is to create art that seems incomplete, impermanent and imperfect, which therefore aesthetically has no limitations to its beauty and simplicity.”

“Harry is an ex-miner and knows exactly what it is to work chest deep in freezing black water one mile underground,” says Greg McGee

Co-director Greg McGee highlights the latest work by According To McGee regular Harry Malkin, on view in the back gallery in the briefest of exhibitions. “It’s a pleasing counterpoint to the front room,” he says. “Harry is an ex-miner and knows exactly what it is to work chest deep in freezing black water one mile underground.

“These portraits of a rapidly vanishing world from a true draughtsman are a crucial part of Britain’s recent heritage, but they’re here for Saturday only, so if anyone needs a contemporary reason to visit their favourite heritage city, this is it.”

Janie’s art also can be found online at: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/janie-stevens

‘Plates of pears or simple pots of flowers elevated into iconic emblematic art? We had to give Carol Douglas a ring for that…’

York artist Carol Douglas, left, with According To McGee gallery co-director Ails McGee

CAROL Douglas: Hygge and Expressionism part two launches at York gallery According To McGee on Saturday at 12 noon.

Greg and Ails McGee continue their commitment to contemporary painting with the latest collection by the York artist, who last exhibited at the Tower Street art space between lockdowns last year.

“We love Carol’s art,” says gallery co-director Ails. “We showcased her 2020 collection in the autumn and we weren’t surprised at how well they connected. The paintings focus in on the simplest, most humble items of homelife and reassemble them as iconic compositions.

“It’s her style, and you can tell who it is from across the room, which is a litmus test of success in itself.”

Carol’s Hygge and Expressionism part one brought the gallery a new type of discerning client when holding court at According To McGee, notes co-director Greg.

“When a gallery has to constantly rely on a static cohort of collectors to keep the commercial side of things going, that gallery is in trouble,” he says. “We have for 17 years made the point that if you want contemporary cityscapes, we have them. Semi-abstract seascapes? We have them too.

“Plates of pears or simple pots of flowers elevated into iconic emblematic art? We had to give Carol Douglas a ring for that! And she does it with such control, such a mischievous vision, that her work reminds me of William Carlos Williams’s poem This Is Just To Say.

“Those cold plums on the plate were more than just plums! So there’s the heft of something simple beautifully depicted that seems to connect to a whole new type of client that we’re really grateful for.” 

Digital artist Nick Walters orchestrating the Hope nocturnal digital display at According To McGee in York

Carol Douglas’s exhibition follows Hope, the three-week nocturnal digital display of artwork by children from all over the world, a project spearheaded by Denmark’s Viborg and guided to York by Chris Edwards, chair of REACH and the York Cultural Education Partnership, and Chris Bailey, clerk of the York Guild of Media Arts.

“If the intention was to remind a slowly returning cultural sector that According To McGee was alive and kicking, it certainly worked,” says Greg. “The response has been humbling. We’ve had families from participating York schools attending, and teenagers we’ve worked with through our charitable arm, New Visuality, sending me photos of the illuminated projections of their artwork.

“It’s been great and just underlines how innovative displays with digital artists Nick Walters and Pritpal Rehal can complement the more traditional thrills of coming to see a beautifully curated exhibition of beautifully composed paintings.” 

Now the focus turns to Carol Douglas’s paintings, with the McGees settling on maintaining the title Carol Douglas: Hygge and Expressionism from last year’s campaign. “Honestly, the title says it all, and the nature of the work has not shifted at all since last year,” says Ails.

“The ‘hygge’ is there to suggest the reassuringly domestic nature of the subject matter, and the ‘expressionism’ highlights just how much of the success is down to Carol’s wholly idiosyncratic insistence on depicting simple things with such iconic power. She is a joy to work with and is a real boost to York’s cultural community.”

Carol, 2018 winner of the Adult & Access Award for Art & Design Lifelong Student of the Year, 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.”

Carol’s artworks can be viewed at According To McGee every Saturday, 12 noon to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702 on weekdays. Alternatively, they can be discovered online at accordingtomcgee.com/collections/carol-douglas.

All are welcome at Saturday’s midday launch, Covid compliance allowing.