By Charles Hutchinson, for York Press
It's a year of anniversaries for Tower Street gallery According to McGee. "This is our 15th year," says gallery co-director Ails McGee, "and we've had it in mind to mark it with something of national importance for sometime. When we saw that 2019 is also not only the 40th anniversary of the Sony Walkman but also the 40th anniversary of legends The Specials, we thought 'let's intersect these birthdays with a crucial, contemporary exhibition that serves as good a reason to visit York as the city's heritage'. And here we have it with 'Pause Play'." Ails and Greg McGee have links with The Specials, in that According to McGee has ran a series of exhibitions from Specials' bassist and now successful Pop Artist Horace Panter since 2014. The success of these shows encouraged them to get on the phone again with Horace to plan a suitably vibrant celebration of the anniversaries mentioned above, and Horace himself couldn't be happier. "It’s great to work with According to McGee again. This exhibition revisits my cassette series of paintings and prints and includes a few new prints just launched, and York is a perfect place for their first showing. For me, the cassette and the Walkman represent an analogue era and what was a cultural shift in how we listened to music. The Walkman was revolutionary inasmuch as it was the first portable device with headphones. I was given my first one as a gift from Sony when The Specials toured in Japan! The blank cassette enabled us to record our own mixtapes, to keep or give as gifts. All very special!"
Greg points to the initial discussions with York artist Mat Lazenby as the spark which set alight the process of what was simply discussions of a Pop Art exhibition and became 'Pause Play'. "It's an ambitious happening, a national cultural event, and it's been gratifying to see it noted as such by collectors from all over the UK. Mat's input was, as ever, crucial. The name of the exhibition, the vibe, the cultural reach comes directly from our collaboration, and it's so good to get Mat's latest work on the walls. It can hold its own against any Pop Artist on the scene, and the inclusion of 3D glasses is a nice touch. Says Mat, “Biggie Smalls (Christopher George Latore Wallace) is a mythic figure in hip-hop music - his enormous charisma and deadly eloquence often clashed with a personality borne out of bravado but also vulnerability allied to a sense of surrender in his lyrics. In this work I’ve crowned him with the crown of Jean-Michel Basquiat a motif that suits the dichotomy of success and failure, reverence and ridicule”.
Proud of its progressive past, the McGees continue to push the envelope with the introduction to the north the art of Chris Barton. For decades Chris was a highly respected name in Hollywood, with direct technical involvement in the realisation of Yoda, the mice in the Witches, characters from Harry Potter, and animals in Babe. As an artist he has hit a purple patch with his production of massive cassette art with a stunning flourish only twenty years in Hollywood could inculcate. Chris says, "I’m delighted to be exhibiting at According To McGee in celebration of the iconic Walkman’s 40th anniversary. My Giant Cassette Art series explores the emotional connections we have for the music and bands that used this medium to bring their work to life and how this is woven into our memories of times, places and loves." Gallery manager Sophie Austin is proud to be directly involved with selecting them for 'Pause Play', "These incredibly collectible one-offs are a perfect tribute to cassettes. It's not only the size of them, but the astonishingly draughtsmanship and eye for detail. The inlays are individually created too, all hand painted acrylic on canvas. They're in the front window, available for perusal. We're hitting a time when the diminutive originals, the cassettes people used to have in their cars, bags, bedrooms, are becoming exciting heritage objects." Greg agrees, "Rewind back to when music was pre-iPod, and the coolest, most intimate way to listen to music was with a Sony Walkman.
The device revolutionised your favourite song. It also became a statement, the way true game-changing gadgets do. Pop Culture and the Pop Art that represents it waxes and wanes. We are now at a fascinating juncture where cutting edge technology and nostalgia are intersecting. We can’t think of more accomplished artists than Horace Panter, Chris Barton, and Mat Lazenby to harness in their art this exciting anniversary with a new collection of paintings and Limited Editions."
Pause Play runs at According to McGee until 9th June.