How a cricket legend, a top artist and a York gallery are promoting new talent

Seeing dollar signs. Left to right: Greg McGee, Ails McGee, Sir Ian Botham, and artist Jim Wheat at the According To McGee exhibition launch. Photograph: Ben Bentley / benbentleyphoto.co.uk
14 Jul 2015 @ 8.40 pm
| News

Jess Clark meets the hot-property artist who brought a sports star to a city gallery

New York, YOU York by Jim Wheat

According to McGee, 8 Tower Street, York YO1 9SA

Until Sun Aug 2, 2015

Gallery website

After being made redundant during the recession, Jim Wheat began painting dollar signs on the walls of his Dubai apartment as a cry for help.

He had never painted before, and originally trained as a civil engineer. It was this that had led him to Dubai at the beginning of the construction boom.

Finding himself out of work and in the throes of a personal crisis, contemporary art was a form of therapy that soon became his passion.

A passion that is abundantly clear upon meeting him at According to McGee, the host of his first British exhibition, New York, YOU York.

Inspired by York races

Not anti-capitalist… artist Jim Wheat. Photograph: Jess Clark
Not anti-capitalist… artist Jim Wheat. Photograph: Jess Clark

It’s clear from the excitement in the gallery that this exhibition is an important landmark, and that the Yorkshire location is meaningful to the artist.

“I’m from Chester originally, so it was always going to be in the north of England,” he says.

One piece, titled York Races, is adorned with sights familiar to anyone who’s ventured into town on a race evening; a dishevelled tie, discarded betting slips, and shuttle bus tickets.

The other pieces are all inspired by the UK and the things Jim missed and remembered about his home – “the Welsh dragon, the Loch Ness monster, BMX bikes, dolly mixtures, Alice Cooper, the fields, the water, the greenery”.

He’s full of praise for the gallery itself. “Their message, and their charity New Visuality, really appealed to me. It ticked all the boxes.

“Working alongside Greg and the family, you feel part of it.

“The art world can be intimidating and very exclusive. To have an exhibition in the north of England, in a well-respected gallery, really means a lot.”

Promoting new talent

The charity New Visuality, which will receive the proceeds from sales of these paintings, provides valuable opportunities for artists beginning their careers.

Jim said:

I think New Visuality and bringing people into the art world is important, because there’s a lot of society telling us that we can’t.

That tells us we should be a doctor, or a civil engineer, or a lawyer instead.

He doesn’t believe that logical and creative ways of thinking are mutually exclusive, however. Echoes of his former life as a civil engineer appear in his artwork.

I’m now bringing it round full circle, to use civil engineering materials in some of my future artwork. I’ll be using the materials I used to sell.

This idea is central to his art, which is focused on the dollar: what it is, what it means and what it does to people.

Donald Trump and Ian Botham

His quest to get famous people to sign dollars as part of his Dubai Dollar Project 2015 has led him into some bizarre situations.

Like the time he met Donald Trump, who refused to shake his hand for hygiene reasons, and only agreed to sign the dollar on the condition he could keep the artist’s pen.

Or his meeting with the infamous Jordan Belfort, better known as the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, who spent the time using his powers of persuasion to sell Jim a ticket to his talk on the art of selling.

“He was full of energy, on his third can of Red Bull by nine am.”

Some celebrities have been more forthcoming with their signatures.

Sir Ian signs ‘his’ dollar painting
Sir Ian signs ‘his’ dollar painting

Sir Ian Botham opened the exhibition in York, signing a dollar to be included in a piece that will be auctioned off at Beefy’s Birthday Bash in a few weeks’ time.

Sir Ian is a UK patron of the charity arm of Jim’s Dollarsandart organisation. The inspiration behind ‘his’ dollar artwork piece was his colour-blindness, and the cricketer’s ability to accept and overcome this weakness to become the best in his field.

Jim explores the extremes of wealth in his work, veering from American icons to the everyday people of Dubai, “the Indian construction workers, the Pakistani taxi drivers and the Sri Lankan guys at the petrol station.”

But he is not making an anti-capitalist statement with his art; he’s embracing the dollar and using his art to encourage charitable giving. He’s adamant when he says, “I refuse to be an artist that’s not going to add value to peoples lives”.

Money and equality

“We’ve championed contemporary painting for 11 years as gallery, and our charitable arm has always used the paintings we exhibit to encourage creative responses in our disabled participants,” says Greg McGee, who runs According To McGee with his wife Ails.

“This is a chance for us to integrate both areas.

“Jim Wheat and his Dollarsandart is hot property in Dubai right now, and he has collectors all over the world.”

They are very interested in “that outward looking, international vibe” – and its influence.

“The work we have on show from young people with disabilities is a direct response to Jim’s work, and has been supported by the Blueberry Academy, as well as our charity New Visuality.

“Add to that the collage created by customers, York Mind, a Love Arts York creation, and you’ve a multi-faceted exhibition.”

Involving Sir Ian Botham was Jim’s idea, Greg said.

“Beefy is the daddy when it comes to charity, and his involvement helps strengthen our charitable presence.

“All profits from the sales will go back into New Visuality, and we’ll be auctioning a collaborative painting from Jim and Beefy.”

As you’d expect from an exhibition centred on the dollar sign, money is key.

Greg said:

Obviously we want to sell as many paintings as possible.

Also, we’re really keen to unpack Jim’s angle on the dollar motif, that only through financial aid, debt relief, and philanthropy will we as a global society move towards equality.

He’s relentlessly unashamed of the positivity of using money as a force for good.