ACCORDING To McGee has launched its latest exhibition, Elaine Thomas: Divine Antics on Wood, at the Tower Street gallery in York.
"Last Friday night we had a packed house, good sales and and a rejuvenated mission for the McGee team," says co-director Ails McGee. "Elaine's latest collection is superb and can compete with any other exhibition in Europe, in terms of contemporary painting, and the sales reflect that."
Divine Antics on Wood forms Elaine's second McGee exhibition after her debut solo show there in 2014. Primarily a celebration of figurative movement, each item is painted on wood, with an eye on biblical and mythological themes. The inspiration from ancient frescoes is evident, with faded outlines and Romanesque positions, but a modern energy prevails too.
"What makes this collection especially evocative is the fusion of all things ancient and faded, and a very modern sense of mischief and exploration, all very well crafted and finished," says co-director Greg McGee. "Elaine is at a fascinating point in her career as an artist, and she's bringing her open-minded approach to her work. The collection reflects this and we've been delighted with the response."
Elaine was awarded a CBE in 2011 for her work as vice chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts and her outstanding contribution to the creative arts in higher education. Now comes the warm reaction to Divine Antics on Wood. "It was a great opening; there was a lovely atmosphere at the gallery, and the response was as heartwarming and encouraging as anything I could have hoped for," she says.
Artist Elaine Thomas with the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Sonja Crisp, her consort Ian Crisp, Ails McGee and Greg McGee at According To McGee, York
As well as celebrating beautiful work, the McGees see this exhibition as an opportunity to hammer home their commitment to championing culture in this area of the city. "There are exciting plans for these parts, and Elaine's exhibition, with its energy and solid craftsmanship, provides the perfect opportunity for us to remind people that there's more to Tower Street than motte and bailey castles and daffodils, as delightful as they are," says Ails.
She also points to the York College curatorial team being vital to the show's success, praising students Tom Child, Janet Easton, Vincent Lyles and Liz O'Connell-Ward on their return to the McGee fold after their show of gallery posters at Fossgate Social in Fossgate. "They're a professional group of artists and curators and were great to work with," she says.
"They had a real instinct for the importance of the event. The Lord Mayor, Councillor Sonja Crisp, commented on how well they'd curated the show. What was interesting was that Greg and I had discussed how important it was for us to reaffirm ourselves as a Tower Street gallery, that we were placed foursquare in Clifford's Tower's shadow.
"There's been a lot of talk regarding contemporary culture in other areas of York, and there's been a lot of plans made about this specific area, some exciting, some controversial. We wanted this exhibition to really hoist our flag and remind people that we've been here for 12 years, and we want very much to be a part of the cultural plans for this area."
Rehayn King, chief executive of York Museums Trust, left, with Ails McGee at According To McGee
This ambition is appreciated increasingly by key figures in York's creative industries, suggests Ails. For example, Reyahn King, chief executive of York Museums Trust, attended the exhibition opening. “According To McGee is a thriving independent art gallery that brings a different cultural offer to this part of the city and enriches the city’s wider arts offer," she says.
"At York Museums Trust we are keen to strengthen links with the gallery, and other key partners located close to York Castle Museum, to attract more investment to the area.
"This is already happening with the exciting plans for Clifford’s Tower. We hope this will help to kick-start renewal of adjoining sites, including the Eye of York and York Castle Museum, so that more people are attracted to the important heritage and art in this part of the city.”
Greg is ebullient about According To McGee's future. "This area of York is only going to get more creative, cultural and fulfilling. We plan not only to enjoy that, but also to be part of it. Our exhibition of Elaine Thomas's wonderful work helps reaffirm that we're in this for the long haul."
Elaine Thomas: Divine Antics on Wood runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, until April 4.