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.