Barry McGee

A lauded and much-respected cult figure in a bi-coastal subculture that comprises skaters, graffiti artists, and West Coast surfers, Barry McGee was born in 1966 in California, where he continues to live and work. In 1991, he received a BFA in painting and printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute. His drawings, paintings, and mixed-media installations take their inspiration from contemporary urban culture, incorporating elements such as empty liquor bottles and spray-paint cans, tagged signs, wrenches, and scrap wood or metal.

McGee is also a graffiti artist, working on the streets of America’s cities since the 1980s, where he is known by the tag name “Twist.” He views graffiti as a vital method of communication, one that keeps him in touch with a larger, more diverse audience than can be reached through the traditional spaces of a gallery or museum. His trademark icon, a male caricature with sagging eyes and a bemused expression, recalls the homeless people and transients who call the streets their home. McGee says, “Compelling art, to me, is a name carved into a tree.”

His work has been shown at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and on streets and trains all over the United States. He and his daughter, Asha, live in San Francisco.

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A look at this week’s art news, including Theaster Gates’ new exhibition in Basel, in which the artist has transformed exhibition spaces into active sites of creative production.

  • Graffiti

    Artist Barry McGee discusses his graffiti aesthetic, and how his style on the streets has changed since he first started tagging at 18.

  • Public and Private Space

    Barry McGee talks about his interest in the history of graffiti, and how he approaches installing his graffiti-style paintings in a gallery space.