As the McGees leave Tower Street, Ails and Greg McGee look back on a selection of highlights. The video links found herein give succour to their bombast.
‘It’s Good But is it Art?’ 2006
“It was our second year as a gallery. York Theatre Royal was getting ready to run Reza’s Art in which one of a group of 3 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 which asked of our visitors ‘Is this Art?’ It gave us a good chance to distill 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, Daniel Hill, we had Lord Mayors and Sheriffs, rock bands ‘Death Cigarettes’ performed. York was great back then with a real vibrant scene.”
James McKay, Tom Wright, Greg McGee, Milladdio, Ails McGee at the launch of 'It's Good But is it Art?'
‘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 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.”
Ails remembers Beefy Botham’s time in the gallery fondly. “He was lovely, 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.”
Sir Ian Botham enjoyed his day in York. "It was a great pleasure to open Jim's show supporting New Visuality. I was impressed with how he'd developed his work, and I recommended 'New York, YOU York' at According to McGee.”
Ails McGee with The Lord Botham OBE at the launch of Dollarsandart's ‘New York, YOU York’
Hello there! Banksy, Grayson Perry, Vic Reeves, and Dscreet
“It was just before the pandemic, a collector friend of ours donated world class art including pieces by heavy weights Banksy, Vic Reeves, Grayson Perry, and Dscreet. 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.”
“It was a weekend event that was over too soon,” says Ails, “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.”
Greg McGee with a framed Banksy at 'Hello There!'
‘The Beano is 80!’ Horace Panter, 2018
Ska-legend Horace Panter provided the Pop Art and star quality and the gallery caused an international splash with kickstarting the 80th birthday celebrations of ‘The Beano’.
Says Greg, “It was a very lighthearted exhibition, but there was no mistaking the characters' punk credentials. Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx were disruptors before Johnny Rotten was born! And 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 a Lichenstein frame, complete with Ben Day dots. The Bash Street Kids invaded the high art world of Koons and Hirst. Collectors from all over the UK attended the opening and we sold massive Originals and more Limited Editions than Gnasher has had sausages.”
Greg and Ails McGee with Special's bassist and Pop Artist Horace Panter
‘Text, Technology, Disability & Art’, The Print Project, 2016
According to McGee employed its charitable arm to multifaceted effect in an exhibition which garnered them an award (Best Cultural Event) at the inaugural ‘York Culture Awards in 2016.
“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 via magnetic words allowing learners at Blueberry Academy 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 the recent UNESCO 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.’ So we gave Shipley's 'The Print Project' a ring.
“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 - anyone can have a go. The learners at Blueberry Academy chose, organised, and pressed their posters. We spent a summer iunterfusing innovation and traditional printing techniques. 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 on 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 for the job of imbuing all tweets and slogans with a Jedi-esque digital power, we worked 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.
“Light installation artist Nick Walters was amazing,” says Ails, “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, thereby 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!”
Ails and Greg McGee with actor Mark Addy at York Culture Awards
‘Garage Projects’, Goldsmiths and Glasgow School of Art Graduates, 2015
The McGee’s saw in their 10th anniversary with a group show from Goldsmiths and Glasgow School of Art graduates. 'Garage Projects', comprising of Rae Hicks, Paul Crook, Jack Park, Mary Wintour, Ian Parkin and Will Thompson, who brought 'Beginnings, Middles, Ends' to the centre of 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.”
Rae Hicks' art at According to McGee
Interactive Prints: ‘Transamerica’, Nathan Walsh, 2013
In 2013, trans-Atlantic links between York and New York received some 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. 4 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,” says Ails, “‘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 at the same time,” says Greg, “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. 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?"
Nathan Walsh's 'Transamerica' at According to McGee
Seebohm: Stories and Gaming, Nick Walters and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2014
According to McGee’s charitable arm New Visuality 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. For a lot of people, the very concepts of Creativity and Culture can lead to feelings of exclusion and frustration. 70% 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 funding form JRF galvanised us on every level.”
“The artwork was a mixture of basic gaming, comic book illustrations, digital art, and collage,” says Ails, “We needed to unify it to exhibit it in any meaningful way.
So once again we brought in light installation artist Nick Walters to take over our front window. Fresh from installations at York Minster and at Glastonbury, and he worked with us to get the best out of the participant. He's come 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 stood as an inner lit testament to Joseph Rowntree Foundation for months.”
New Visuality photography for The Joseph Rowntree Foundation funded project
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.”
“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,” says Greg. “Staying sensitive to the currents of modern writing has helped us hugely in continuing to curate cutting edge exhibitions.”
Arnold Kemp at According to McGee: https://vimeo.com/66807378
Kenny Goldsmith at According to McGee: https://vimeo.com/
Greg and Ails McGee with New York poet Kenny Goldsmith
'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 selected 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 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.” Says the Trust's Bob Frith, "Dave Pearson died in 2008, leaving behind a vast and fascinating collection of artwork in his studio – the size and quality of which was taken up by the national press. Over the past 15 years there have been large-scale showings of his work, both in London and the North-West where he made his home. Recently, there was the exhibition at the Turnpike Gallery in Manchester. Recently the English Museum of Rural Life collected several of his drawings.”
“Our collaboration will continue to grow, says Greg, "We've worked with the Trust for years, and in 2018 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 amidst the trembling chiaroscuro the figures quicken and bristle in their brutal work. Their poises and movements are perfectly calibrated with the instinct and knowledge hewn from many decades' worth of witnessing and working more than one mile deep in underground.”
“Painting has never been more needed,” says Ails, “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.”
Greg and Ails McGee with Bob Frith of Dave Pearson Trust
This is an abridged article first seen on Charles Hutchinson's platform for all things cultural. To follow Charles Hutchinson's blog - and keep in touch with the Hutch - subscribe: https://charleshutchpress.co.uk/