Saturday, September 19, 2009

Art from the Heart: Margaret Kilgallen.

Today is turning out to be a very education oriented day of posting! I promise to return to our usual frivolities come Tuesday. Until then I wanted to share with ya'll one of my favorite artists: Margaret Kilgallen.

I have always felt a connection to her. I can remember the very first time I saw a piece of her artwork many many years ago. I was immediately drawn to the hand lettering and folky/vintage sensibility of the pieces. I thought she had such a cool and interesting style. I also loved that she was a grafitti artist, because there are so few women out there doing that. I had heard she was married to Barry McGee (aka TWIST, who at the time was a pretty well known and respected local painter and graffiti artist) and thought "Wow, they are the coolest couple EVER!" The two of them quickly rose to fame as leaders of the Mission School art movement that developed here in San Francisco in the late 90s. Both would go on to become pretty major players in the modern-day art world.

Margaret's shows were often huge installations with massive images painted right onto the walls of the space. If you were lucky you could also spot her work throughout the city—guerilla style. Instead of the usual urban hipster angst, her influences were drawn from rural inspiration: hand-drawn signage, hobo train writing, and Appalachian banjo music:

In 2003 I became pregnant and for my birthday Greg took me to Vancouver for a little getaway. We went to the Vancouver Art Gallery which had a huge installation of her work. Surrounded by the bold, beautiful images, I was once again transfixed. As I sat on a small bench and read her bio, I was startled to realize she had passed away a few years ago. She was only 33. The story, as I recall, as that she had developed breast cancer. When she discovered she was pregnant she had to make the critical decision—continue with treatment or have the baby. She chose to have a child. Her little girl Asha was born on June 7. A few short weeks later on June 26, Margaret Kilgallen passed away in the arms of her husband Barry. Reading the story I was heartbroken and moved to tears. I can't imagine having to make such a decision. And I can't imagine what it must have been like for Barry—to lose your partner so soon after you both bring a chid into the world.

Margaret's work is still extremely influential and so many artists have been inspired by her. Because of the nature of her work (grafitti-style and murals) there really isn't a ton of her work flying around. We were really fortunate to purchase a piece of hers back in 2005 from Paulson Press. It was the first real "art" we have ever bought and we really treasure it.

Before she passed, Margaret and Barry were on Art:21-Art in the Twenty-First Century, which was a PBS documentary series about contemporary visual artists. I think this is a super interesting and cool little piece. If you have time take a gander and learn more about this lovely woman.

More on Margaret: here and here.

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  1. thank you for posting on this artist. her work is amazing. i love her style. the bike rider is awesome. i love the footage of the two of them at the trains. beautiful. such a tradic loss but a great impact she made in her lifetime. xo
    peace & love!

  2. oh thats SO heartbreaking. thanks for introducing her to me, i really like her work. the lettering is amazing.

  3. Oh! Now it made me cry that I'm pregnant her story has felt more close. Thanks for introducing her to me/us. Lv

  4. wow! just WOW. I've seen her work lots of places and now this story blows me away. Soo sad. I can't fricken imagine.

    I've always been fond of her color choices!

    on a sidenote...
    I also went to Vancouver when I was first pregnant. Other samey-ism for us! Add another notch.

  5. What a wonderful post. I love the stories behind artists--even such a heartbreaking one like this story. I've familiar with her work, but not the artist, so it was great to get that from this post.


  6. QUALITY I really like this, it reminds me of a graffiti artist I saw at their is a few more good graffiti artists on the site.

  7. I just saw Beautiful Losers last night and am in the midst of writing a blog post about it/her. Thanks for posting this!!

  8. I saw Beautiful Losers yesterday and can't stop thinking about it. Mike Mills and Margaret really moved me. I can't really talk about her yet, too raw for me as a cancer survivor and mama whose cancer relapsed during my pregnancy. I got lucky, although it spread rampantly I delivered a healthy baby boy in 2003 & had chemo when my son was five weeks old. I feel a very deep pain and sadness about Margaret. She was gifted and amazing and the world lost a beautiful soul.

    Thank you for showing me this post. I absolutely love the photo of her with her banjo. I feel a connection to her too as you can tell.

  9. omg alex. there is so much good in this post I sort of want to cry.