Article about ‘Myth America’ exhibition at York’s According to McGee (1 July to 7 August) by Charles Hutchinson for York Press.
The American Dream is re-told by myth makers and shakers at McGee show.
THE new but retro Pop Art work of Horace Panter, Mat Lazenby and Gary Brown sings and sizzles off the walls of the According To McGee gallery, in Tower Street, York.
Collaborating and exhibiting together for the first time, the trio explore their differing approaches to a mutual appreciation of American culture, each with a contrasting vantage point.
“It’s a blast of invigorating, visual-delight soul food for the spirit,” says gallery co-owner Greg McGee. “The different works hang well together, complementing each other’s artistic styles with a unifying thread of strong graphic imagery and themes of music, travel and journeys.”
The exhibition bears the title of Myth America – The American Dream Retold, whose concept is explained by curator Janet Easton. “Although now it’s instantly recognisable, it’s not so long ago the American lifestyle was achingly exotic. Doughnuts, a hot, unwinding highway, and the propulsive sub-culture of New York loomed like fantasy for those of us watching from UK suburbia in the late Seventies. It’s this vantage point which is the touchstone for Myth America.”
Musician and international Pop Art exponent Horace Panter presents bright, super-saturated colours and the “distilled essence of the iconographic landscape” in his Americana series. His experiences touring America as the bassist and co-founder of Coventry ska legends The Specials inform his homage to the highways, colossal blue skies, motels and diners of a Jack Kerouac-style life on the road.
“I’ve always been fascinated by America,” he says. “It’s where my favourite music comes from, and most of my favourite art for that matter. I can see why David Hockney spent so much time out in California. The sky really IS that colour.”
Gary Brown and Mat Lazenby, of York design duo LazenbyBrown, shared similar rural childhoods and became avid consumers of Americana, where the exotic otherness of urban culture, underground music, imported film and TV created a transatlantic yearning for the American Dream.
Indeed Greg McGee remembers the late 1970s in Britain as being “not all bad”. “It had its own colours and stories. Early skinheads, ska, Two-Tone provided fertile ground for the imagination, but it was Americana and its long trek across the Atlantic that often blazed brightest,” he says. “It was amplified, exaggerated, mythical.”
Mat Lazenby adds his own thought to McGee’s reminiscence. “For me, this exhibition brings together three very different and personal takes on American culture. In my case it is about how the visual language of a place becomes fetishised and slightly distorted on its long journey across the Atlantic.”
Starkly beautiful against the gallery’s white walls, Lazenby’s printed signs, in McGee’s words, reference both the underground metro system and underground movements through graphic, clean symbolism with a nod to graffiti culture, where colours drip like newly applied spray paint.
Lazenby says: “In my work I’ve adopted the utilitarian visual approach of the New York City subway system to tell a story of key ‘unsung’ moments in the evolution of music in America. I’m casting the subway as a cultural artery beneath the city, a conveyance to mythic, half-imagined places.”
Greg adds: “These pieces are spare, but redolent and evocative, their layers of meaning and levels of reference embodying the structure of the underground system itself. The notion of travel and journeys, destination and stopping points supports the imagery of Howard Panter’s fast food places and roadside motels.”
Gary Brown is a DJ and aficionado of rare soul music that has captivated him for the best part of 20 years, and his portraits are a digital reimagining of soul legends who were under-appreciated in their time.
“With pixelated graphics evoking both newsprint and Roy Lichtenstein, and using coloured Pop Art overlays, Brown has made something entirely new.” says McGee, “Like a musical speakeasy, the works distil and blend underground music and art into a heady visual cocktail.”
Brown elaborates: “My images for this exhibition celebrate the work of artists, unknown to many, whose one-hit-wonders went on to become immortalised on the soul scene.”
His portrait of Etta James pictured as Marilyn Monroe is particularly striking. “It’s fitting, I think, that these artists are celebrated in a defining 1960s’ Pop Art style, unashamedly drawn from the styling cues of Andy Warhol,” he says.
Summing up the exhibition, curator Janet Easton says: “Myth America is not simply a nostalgic exhibition of Pop Art; not just an easy bite of visual fast food. These artistic explorations have substance and relevance today. With current world politics in upheaval, the yearning for transportation to altered and other states, travel, adventure and expanded horizons perpetuates the myth of The American Dream.”
Myth America – The American Dream Retold is on show at According To McGee, York, until August 7.