York St John Artists At According To Mcgee, April 2011

Art fiend Tom Kershaw turns up lubricated to a Private View. Loves it. Writes about it. Ain’t that just the sweetest thing?

I have been away in Bath, Bristol and Exeter – fine places all. On my return to York I saw a poster outside Evil Eye advertising the launch party of an art gallery’s new exhibition. York St John: Past & Present IV, at according to McGee, it sez ‘ere. “York St John University engenders some of the edgiest artists in the North. Increasingly anticipated by collectors from all over the region and beyond, our annual showcase of current students and recent graduates’ art work has never been more vital. Gloriously cacophonous, provocative and infused with enough fun to flirt with the grumpiest of Conceptual Art dissers, ‘York St John: Past & Present’ is proving to be an important cog in the complex engine that is the North’s art scene.” Well, come to daddy. I like a good launch party at an art gallery. First, though, a man must whet his whistle on a beverage that brings bombast to the blood: and I’m talking about an Evil Eye cocktail. You know it. On the bar there’s a copy of the York Press. So I opens it, doesn’t I? There in the culture section is an article written about the very same show at According to McGee. The article runs thus:
“AFTER taking part as an artist in York St John: Past & Present III, now avant-garde conceptual artist Matt Durrant is the curator for the latest instalment at According To McGee in York.
Happy to entrust the show to Matt, gallery co-owner Greg McGee says: “This is the fourth show where we’ve dovetailed York St John University’s students and alumni.
“It’s got to the point where decisions and direction are so much more involving and sophisticated that Ails [his co-owner] and I thought it makes sense to employ a paid curator to take the lion’s share of responsibility.”
Matt had shown a great attitude last time, recalls Greg.
“And we loved his work, so he kicked off our ArtWork series at The Beautiful Meme, in Walmgate, last summer. We admire his authenticity and vision; he’s very welcome aboard and we can’t wait to unleash his energies on other projects besides exhibitions here. We’re going over plans to take a group show over to Shanghai University in China and Matt will play a crucial role in that.”
Matt exhibited in last year’s show during his third year at York St John and is now a graduate intern at Bar Lane Studios.
“For Past & Present IV, I toured the York Open Studios with Greg, headhunting the most, eclectic, interesting, even coy work – pieces that are clever but accessible and understated,” says Matt, who will be exhibiting his own works Yorkshire Triptych and the metaphorical, theatrical Watch The Birdies (an installation that is “more about photography than of it”).
He has selected final-year students Nick Booth, Kirsty Boutle, Amy Hodgson and Rachel Hanks and St John’s alumni Lisa Gorten, Jack Cook and Tom Hodgson to exhibit alongside himself.
“I’m really interested in getting my hands dirty with this exhibition and keeping an eye on how it’s been progressing,” he says.
“I want it to be eclectic and coherent, and I guess that this show is about demonstrating emphatically that York St John is the hub for the most exciting art in the city.” ”
Needless to say I quaffed the cocktail and strolled through the wan, white wine light of York at its most tender. Early April is such a delicate time up North. I didn’t have an invite to the Private View at the gallery opposite Clifford’s Tower, but I knew Greg and Ails McGee from years back, and we’ve enjoyed a few nights out clubbing in the UK’s wildest hotspots. Just as I knew it, I was welcomed with open arms. The place was packed. Students, art collectors, bar managers, the press, even international art star Shaun Caton was present. It was like a Berlin nightclub, but without the techno.
The art itself was deliberately provocative, and perhaps a little contemporary for me. There was only one painter, a Kirsty Boutle, who confidently and pleasingly allowed her instinctive spirals to drip colour. Tom Hodsgon’s ‘peep boxes’ were witty I suppose, and well made, but I would have liked to have seen them bigger. Matt Durrant, the curator, had the best vantage point on the main walls in the front room with his stylish photography. It was his work in the back room that had people frowning in puzzlement though: a whole wall devoted to two hanging cameras and two real dead ravens, beginning to liquify and ooze blood while we quaffed red wine. Art? I don’t know. But it had people arguing outside, so mission perhaps accomplished. Jack Cook I had read about last year in a Live & Love magazine: his photos sold well (as, miraculously, did the two dead birds!), and Rachel Hank’s riff of manipulated photography was probably the best thing there. highly collectable and crisply framed, I almost got me wallet out. Almost. Lisa Gorton was installing some work that baffled me on the wall – must return for a closer look, as installation art has always eluded me and I feel the loss is mine. Lastly, the window was dominated by a home made doll’s house from artist Nick Booth, a bit of fun and reasonably handsome woodwork.
I enjoyed the show, and enjoyed going onto Vanity, Dusk and Evil Eye (again) later. They’re a good crowd, the arty crowd in York. Hungry for wild things. And though much of the show tonight may have been above my mental/aesthetic/spiritual propensities, it seemd that 300+ people were more than happy with what was by any standards a keen, sharp exhibition of contemporary art.

Forgot to mention a participating artist in the YSJ show. A photographer: Amy Hodgson. Tattooed hands and, captured with a very fast shutter speed, a small explosion of cool, jewel like water. Pretty erotic, got to be said. Looking forward to seeing more of Hodgson’s stuff in York/Yorkshire. The North is a cracking place to see this new stuff, man – is it the hunger, something in the water, the impatience of being the poor relation to the institutionalised luxury of the South? Either way: lovely art!

By Viv on June 22, 2011

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