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Elementals, According To McGee, York, April 21 - May 14
THE latest exhibition at According To McGee is strictly according to Ails McGee rather than husband Greg, the regular chief curator at the Tower Street gallery in York.
Opening tomorrow with a private view from 10am to 5pm, Elementals showcases five painters and one ceramicist, all female.
“This is the first show I’ve solely curated since our first baby arrived in 2007,” says Ails. “I’ve been otherwise engaged for four years, bringing up three babies, and I really didn’t feel I could have spared the time, energy or creative thinking it takes to launch a successful exhibition.
“Curating a show demands a certain type of zeal, and we’ve always looked at showcasing art in a way that is more than an exhibition – we’re always keen to make it an event, more of a happening than something that politely waits for the browser to walk in.”
The gallery’s last private view drew 200 guests, among them the Lord Mayor and the Sheriff of York and representatives from York Mind and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
“It felt more like the launch of an international nightclub,” says Ails, right. “I want to maintain that swagger, as it’s part of what we do, but the time is right for me to step up, take the driver’s wheel and do it my way.
“I didn’t want to co-curate with Greg. We work well together but the concept behind this exhibition is an elemental intuition, an instinctive love of colour, light and space. All very feminine, but not, I hope, in a traditional or reductive way, more as a acknowledgement that women can bring a different type of energy to creative thinking, and making a visual statement.
“So, I thought it was important that I chose the artists and composed their work on our white walls, and that the artists were all female.”
The resulting show uses colour as its touchstone, but, has its moments of sunlight and shadow, says Ails.
Where Beverley artist Claire West’s work is as uplifting as a three-minute pop song, Halifax artist Jo Brown’s is glowering and broody. Where French-born Francine Cross’s art has a diffused heat, the work of York’s Rosie Bramley is thrilling and icy.
“Our flagship artist is a McGee favourite, Indian-born Amrik Varkalis, from Huddersfield,” says Ails. “In many ways, her work is how a lot of modern women see themselves. It’s bold, idiosyncratic and witty.
“Amrik’s challenge to David Hockney in a BBC interview to come and take tips on how to choose a more colourful palette was a cute piece of marketing, and it was more ballsy than a lot of the vapid hot air coming from other male contemporary artists.”
Stamford Bridge ceramicist Emily Stubbs will be making her McGee debut. “I aim to elevate recognisable everyday objects through expressive hand building and surface exploration into the use of decoration and colour,” she says.
As Ails readies the gallery for tomorrow’s launch, she says: “The main challenge has been for me to remember the fact that I’m a business woman. I wanted to source what we respect as much as what we think will sell.
“All the artists’ work is primarily focused on finding the joy and darkness of our experience through the sumptuous filter of succulent colour. It promises to be a show shot through with light and heat.”
Contributing artist Claire West has the last word on an exhibition that will run from tomorrow until May 14.
“I paint because it makes me happy,” she says. “I love colour and enjoy exploring its contrasts and its vibrant intense nature.
“My paintings are made in my shed at the bottom of the garden and the birds and nature that I see from the window is a constant inspiration to me. My aim is that the paintings should be uplifting, make people smile and brighten up a dull day.”