More than words on a wall

*I felt I just had to share this.

Last night Dana Goodyear wrote a beautiful feature published by the New Yorker. It’s one of the best articles I’ve ever read.

This kind of writing reminds me of why I wanted to be a journalist in the first place, which is really what I’ve been needing for a while. I someday wish to dig out stories like this. I want to meet people who are unafraid to share their brave, beautiful lives no matter how messy and risky. The article is about three artists, much of their art, and a whole lot about their story through the years.

“Like children playing away from the adults, Kilgallen and McGee occupied a world of their own invention. They lived cheaply and resourcefully, scavenging art supplies and furniture. Pack rats, they filled their home—first a warehouse building and then a two-story row house in the Mission—with skateboards, surfboards, paintings, thrift-store clothes, and other useful junk. At night, dressed identically in pegged work pants and Adidas shoes, they went on graffiti-writing adventures. She was daring, scaling buildings and sneaking into forbidden sites. He once painted the inside of a tunnel with a series of faces so that, like a flip book, it animated as you drove past.

In the studio they shared, Kilgallen and McGee worked side by side. He showed her how to make her own panels, and she brought home from the library the yellowing endpapers of old books, which they started painting on. She worked on her women; he painted and repainted the sad, sagging faces of the outcast men he saw around the city. They worked obsessively, perfecting their lettering, their cursives, and their lines. “Barry is busy downstairs making stickers,” Kilgallen wrote to a friend. “I hear the squeak of his pen—chisel tipped permanent black—I have been drawing pretty much every day, mostly, silly things; and when I feel brave I have been trying to teach myself how to paint.” When he needed an idea, he’d go over to her space and lift one. Deitch likens them to Picasso and Braque. From a distance, Rojas, too, idealized them. “That was a perfect union, Barry and Margaret,” she says. “You couldn’t get more parallel than the feminine and the masculine communing together.”

As recognition of Kilgallen’s and McGee’s work grew, they tried to retain the ephemeral, pure quality of paintings made on the street. Little pieces they recycled or reworked, sold for a pittance, or let be stolen from the galleries. Wall paintings were whited out when shows closed. When Kilgallen became fascinated by hobo culture, she and McGee started travelling up and down the West Coast to tag train cars with their secret nicknames: B. Vernon, after one of McGee’s uncles, and Matokie Slaughter, a nineteen-forties banjo player Kilgallen revered. The cars marked “B.V. + M.S.” are still out there.”

“He didn’t want to own it; he didn’t want to own anything precious, sentimental, or nice. He’d be afraid of losing it somehow.”

—Dana Goodyear

I guess it’s true that while some people spend their whole lives trying to make art, others really make an art out of living. 

Featured image: © Clare Rojas’ Horse Walks Into Field print

Barry McGee’s 99 Bottles installation, Art Basel, 2009

Installation by Margaret Kilgallen

Decks designed by Margaret Kilgallen 

Barry & Margaret working together

Graffiti by Carrie Marill who pays homage to Margaret Kilgallen

© Clare Rojas, who references native American, American, and Russian folklore in her prints

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