We Made Something Of This. An inner lit farewell to Tower Street from the McGees and Gary & Claire.

By Greg McGee

We Made Something Of This. An inner lit farewell to Tower Street from the McGees and Gary & Claire.

According to McGee on Tower Street bows out with a final art happening, 'We made Something Of This', on Saturday 24th September. The eponymous title refers to the neon artwork from Gary & Claire that will flicker for the final time in the front window.

"Our visual aesthetic would not have been possible without the neon slogans from Gary and Claire," says gallery co-director Greg McGee, “According to McGee is built on a mash up of contemporary practices. The idea that a painting and a performance can happen alongside an installation of neon lit slogans, that hang next a wall full of letterpress prints, all in a small gallery space really fired us up. The only difficulty was limiting the exhibition space to a set timescale. Gary and Claire's crackling output helped us celebrate the huge potpourri artists over a long period of time, all the while flying the flag for independent art.”

Ails McGee and Greg McGee, over seen by neon art from Gary & Claire

The inaugural 2015 event from Claire Hind and Gary Winters: Five Dead Acts Five Dead Cats explored the concept of mortality in a performance of action based tasks. ”A dead king meets a dead gorilla, meets a presumed dead adventurer meets a dead singer meets a dead wonder of the world meets a dead writer meets a dead career, meets a dead psychoanalyst meets a dead cat.”

Ails McGee's introduction to the neon art from Gary & Claire

“What more do you need to know?” laughs Greg, “it played to a packed house. I’ve never seen The Lord Mayor of York so spooked! It was a great performance, especially reimagined for our current show at the time, Interfuse, after a stint at the Defibrillator Gallery in Chicago.” The event was overseen by Claire and Gary’s neon slogans Crying and If Only, two phrases met time and time again by the two artists in their exploration of the subconscious. Dream Prints also festooned the walls, taking as the subject matter the dreams and nightmares of the public who dropped in and wrote down their dreams, which were then chronicled as illustrations by Hind and Winters.

Since then a steady snowball of happenings have held court at According to McGee. Light installation artist Nick Walters returned from a triumphant installation at Glastonbury to colonise the gallery’s front window, overlooking York’s second most famous landmark Clifford’s Tower.

Ails McGee and Kimbal Bumstead, over seen by neon art from Gary & Claire

In May 2016,  Brian Lewis, Pontefract’s 79 year old Renaissance Man and no stranger to the northern art scene, set up a mattress in the gallery and drew non-stop for 24 hours seventy nine characters from Shakespeare’s canon, taking a break for 2 hours sleep on a put-up bed. “It was very literary, very punk,” says Greg, “and the drawings were great. Brian is a real showman and has more energy than performance artists half his age.” Says Brian, “Interfuse is an important event for me. I love drawing. It really kicked in for me six days before my 76th birthday when I read Hokusai’s comment, when he said that everything he’d done up to that point was inferior to what he was about to do. I loved that. And so, in honour of Hokusai, I set myself a challenge to draw 1000 drawings a year. It was hard work, but I did it, and I’m proud of it. The neon complements the neon of Gary and Claire very well, I feel. Tonight’s Interfuse fits nicely with that. It’s as much about drawing as it is about a performance, which I love, and has really focused me. This isn’t just about creativity. You have to stay up late, and though I’ll be in bed at midnight, I’ll be up two hours later drawing again, adding to the collection. All of this in an art gallery opposite Clifford’s Tower, with a bed on the floor. I’m loving it.”

Brian Lewis and neon at According to McGee, opposite Clifford's Tower, York

The literary vibe skewered so well by Gary & Claire was augmented in June 2016 by a visit from Teesside author Richard Milward and Hull author Russ Litten. Reading excerpts of short stories flanked by two of Milward’s new paintings, the two authors took to the task with relish. Milward’s work is a constant feature on BBC’s Culture Show (he is a favourite of Lauren Laverne), and his work has been translated into 9 languages. Litten’s novels Scream If You Want To Go Faster, Swear Down, and Kingdom are thrilling psychodramas, consolidating Hull’s position on the cultural map. Says Milward, “We’d been threatening to do something together at According to McGee for a long time. It’s been a treat to finally pull it off, showing the paintings and reading alongside the mighty Russ Litten in an independent gallery with massive ambitions in the north and beyond. A particularly special setting given we were performing in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower, where the original Luddites were imprisoned 200 years ago, my paintings being a modern surrealistic take on their plight” says Litten, “it felt great to read in a room full of art. Richard’s paintings are glorious, and the neon light from Gary & Claire has an immediate warmth and intimacy that lends itself gladly to spoken word performance. I hope to come back in the future and tell some more tales.”

“Independent art has always been in the cultural bloodstream,” now says co-director Ails McGee, “independent art avoids this strange obsession with pigeon holes such as Cubism, Supremacism, Vorticism, what have you. At its best, it’s “anti-elite”, in that it’s not there for an intellectual elite to wield to prove a point that bamboozles most viewers."

Ails McGee and the art of Gary and Claire hold court in York's According to McGee

"Contemporary art doesn’t always have to about the “big idea”, it should be accessible to everyone, and the easier one genre interfuses with another genre, the greater the impact of a group exhibition. With wit, warmth, and crackling neon light, Gary & Claire have helped make that happen and we will always be grateful to them."

'We Made Something of This' is the final According to McGee exhibition at Tower Street, York. All details on social media. 

For more on the game changing creativity of Gary & Claire, visit: http://www.garyandclaire.com/