Tower Street art gallery According to McGee continues its series of New Visuality events with a riff of performances this summer. Brian Lewis, Pontefract’s 81 year old Renaissance Man and no stranger to the northern art scene, a world he has helped shape for over 60 years, returns to wield his notorious 24 hour drawathon. Two years ago he drew for 24 hours seventy nine characters from Shakespeare’s canon, with a small break of 2 hours’ sleep on a put-up bed. This year he aims to draw non-stop a new collection based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. Browsers, visitors and collectors are welcome: just be prepared for a wise-cracking, bearded 81-year-old artist at the top of his visual game, with a growing mountain of Shakespeare drawings at his elbow. It is a characteristically curve ball gesture from a constantly evolving creative, a tip of the hat to the newly constructed Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre a mere stone’s throw away from According to McGee.
Says gallery director Ails McGee, "Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre is, by any standards, a jewel in the crown of our wonderful city. It has massively rejuvenated our area, with Clifford’s Tower now attracting more visitors than ever. As a gallery opposite Clifford’s Tower, we naturally benefit from that. Brian is a fascinating artist, with a magpie’s eye for great ideas, ideas which, with some chutzpah, he gleans and uses in his own creativity. Fresh from his own ‘Bus Pass People’ project where Brian has a go at attitudes to arts and age, Brian reconfigured his York performance to fit closely with all things Shakespearian. He more than gets away with it. His drawings are bristling and relentless, and are indicative of a much younger man, which, in many ways, he is. He’s the most ‘young at heart’ artist I know."
According to McGee's Interfuse has inspired me, Michael O'Hare, everyone's favourite chef, inspires me and even commissioned me to fill his restaurant with drawings, and there's York Theatre Royal, when Dianne Wilcocks commissioned me to fill the theatre. It's all exciting stuff, and is very much a York thing to be able to celebrate history and contemporary energy at the same time."
Brian takes up the theme, ‘81 is 18 backwards!", he laughs, "As an older person I am, perhaps, marginalized a little. Older people are usually seen as the audience rather than the creators. Through the National Lottery and Arts Council England, my 2016 project ‘Bus Pass People’ was an attempt to readdress that notion. My performances at According to McGee are similar pieces of showmanship, but they’re geared especially for this space, with the Rose Theatre especially in mind."
Brian’s draw-a-thon attracted a lot of attention from high footfall in the middle of York, with his instantly recognisable bearded and tweed wearing shape sat at the front desk alongside a bespoke neon light, rendered in to the shape of his signature, a quick portrait of the man himself. He seems genuinely grateful to be back in the centre of York, "I first came to York when I was a young teacher, and have had since then many interesting times, many wild times," he says, "I’ve always been very fulfilled here. I worked in a women’s prison, where I won a National Community Prize, and wrote a book based about a female prison in York. And it’s such a great city. You have galleries like According to McGee opposite a Medieval building like Clifford’s Tower. There are stained glass windows in ancient churches at the end of every street. And this work, these drawings for Interfuse fits with that. According to McGee’s Interfuse has inspired me, Michael O’Hare, everyone’s favourite chef, inspires me and even commissioned me to fill his restaurant with drawings, and there’s York Theatre Royal, when Dianne Wilcocks commissioned me to fill the theatre. It’s all exciting stuff, and is very much a York thing to be able to celebrate history and contemporary energy at the same time."
The drawings of heroes, heroines, and villains culled from Shakespeare’s two seminal plays will begin on Saturday evening, 6pm. His previous collection was quick and carefully composed, and, to anyone familiar with Brian’s bristling black ink work, inimitably his. Brian is keen to stress that he welcomes members of the public. "I’ve exhibited at According to McGee many times, but there’s something special about these performances. They’re fleeting and disruptive, and, hopefully, hammer home the attempt of an old man who has studied Shakespeare all his life to leave some kind of recognition of the joy it has brought. The idea of fusing that intent, with creative drawing, and a performance, in the context of an art gallery and a charity like New Visuality is really exciting. And I’m enjoying every minute of it." Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre continues to hold court until September 2nd, 2018. If you’re in the Clifford’s Tower area of York area on Saturday evening, do try and pop in and catch Brian Lewis in action. His arty performance is testament not only to the cultural ripples spread by Europe’s first ever Pop Up Shakespeare Theatre, but indicate a man who, at 81 years of age, has his hand firmly at the helm of his own creative output.
Brian Lewis’ ‘Shakespeare II’, a New Visuality project, runs on Saturday night, 6pm, until Sunday 6pm. Viewers, browsers and collectors welcome.According to McGee Website