Return of the Artist: David Baumforth
By Greg McGee
Tower Street gallery According to McGee continues its series of high profile exhibitions with its recent launch of 'Return of the Painter', the solo show from York born painter David Baumforth. Internationally well regarded and feted by art critics such as the Financial Times' William Packer and TV star Sister Wendy, Baumforth is the eponymous painter in question and is very pleased to back at According to McGee. “It feels right to be back in York with this collection” he says. “My last collection was very well received, and though that has been gratifying, success or lack of it can be a distraction. I've paint how I've always painted, and that's with a focus on the truth of what I see in front of me. The Yorkshire Moors and its coastline are a constant source of inspiration. This latest collection is testament to that, so I feel no need for change. I’m always happy to exhibit them in According To McGee as Greg and Ails have such terrific enthusiasm for painting of quality.”
The mellow words are a far cry from the "straight talking, short tempered" Baumforth of yore, an irascible artist whose reputation as the 'Bernard Manning of the art world' went before him. Gallery co-director Greg McGee is keen to distant himself from the comparison. "David Baumforth played a big part in our first ever exhibition 15 years ago," he says, "And though he has mellowed over the years, and we have most certainly seen him lose his temper with one or two characters, he is at heart a lovely guy. His painting is increasingly sensitive and visionary, and he has, like all real artists, not stopped yearning for creative truth. His North East coast depictions crackle with light and energy. I think maybe he has this reputation because in an ever more sensitive and outraged world, he speaks bluntly and without apology. Nor did he ever sold himself to the chatterati with political statements or concept art. He is a painter and he has for decades refined his craft until he can harness the North East sunrise and glittering spume with more flair than most twenty somethings. Painting is very much alive and well, and David is in the front seat."
Co-director Ails McGee agrees and points to the latest collection as vindication, "I curated this exhibition single handedly and I can honestly say it's been the easiest process I've known as a gallerist. The work has pretty much curated itself. And it feels so contemporary and relevant! We're a modern art gallery, and always try to be progressive, but that's not to say that when you're given painting of this quality by an artist of such calibre as David Baumforth, then you turn to something that has all cool police frothing at the mouth. This is by any standards excellent painting from a painter at the top of his game with local names shot right through the collection - Ravenscar, Whitby, Scarborough, Robin Hood's Bay. We feel much more comfortable celebrating this than whacking a few headphones on the wall, installing a barely coherent video, and getting just as puzzled as the browser. And unlike conceptual art, you can buy it and take it home!"
It is this last aspect that perhaps understandably animates the McGees as they survey the front gallery after last Saturday's opening event. "Financially, there is no formula," says Greg, "and it's true to say that times have been tough. Would we ever subordinate quality such as Baumforth for pot boilers that might sell to a wider swathe of the general public? No. Are we surprised that his work is selling so well, with collectors coming from all over the UK to buy an original depiction of the North East coast? Again, no. A lot of this intuitive, and the pre-exhibition sales are testament to that. Baumforth does not try and second guess anyone. He paints beautiful things with an instantly recognisable flair that puts him above his contemporaries, and there are enough collectors out there with with that instinct for excellence to keep us going, in fact it's getting better." Ails is sanguine about the future of galleries in the future. "My advice is find excellent painters and then help nourish them with exhibitions. 'The Return of the Painter' has, almost by definition, been a battle cry, and David Baumforth fits that attitude perfectly. Once the hype and reputation clears away, you're faced with paintings that still bristle with beauty. The Turner of the North? Yes, definitely. I'd go beyond that, and say that no painter alive in the UK can bottle the slippery nature of dying light better than David Baumforth."
'The Return of the Baumforth: David Baumforth' runs until August 1st at According to McGee, York.