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Barry McGee & Margaret Kilgallen in "Place"

“I like things that are handmade,” says Margaret Kilgallen, referring to the hand-painted signs of San Francisco’s Mission District that influenced her work. “In that they did it themselves—that’s what I find beautiful.” The segment follows Kilgallen as she bikes around the Mission, paints in her studio, visits the San Francisco train yards with artist and husband Barry McGee, and creates a new painting installation at the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum.

While hand-painting wall sized letters on a ladder, Kilgallen describes her process: “I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work…when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.”

Barry McGee, who has a passion for graffiti art, says, “I like that process of a thing discarded, then picked up, and intercepted.” In this segment, McGee discloses an urban inspiration for his art. The segment follows McGee and Kilgallen to the local train yards where the artists point out their favorite markings and leave some of their own, contributing to a graphic conversation that spans train cars across the nation.

McGee is also filmed atop a water tower painting one of his signature figures. Traveling to the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum, the segment follows McGee as he installs a new room-sized work, a two-story mural, as well as a storefront painting looking out on the streets of Los Angeles.

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Barry McGee

Barry McGee’s 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.

Margaret Kilgallen

Early experiences as a librarian and bookbinder contributed to Margaret Kilgallen’s encyclopedic knowledge of signs, drawn from American folk tradition, printmaking, and letterpress. Painting directly on the wall, Kilgallen created room-size murals that recall a time when personal craft and handmade signs were the dominant aesthetic. Strong, independent women—walking, surfing, fighting, and biking—are featured prominently in the artist’s compositions. Kilgallen had a love of “things that show the evidence of the human hand.” She died in June 2001 in San Francisco, where she lived with her husband, Barry McGee.

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“The public looks at graffiti and sees garbage and sees ugliness. And I always wonder why they don’t look at the billboards, especially around San Francisco there’s millions everywhere—isn’t that garbage? That’s like mind garbage.”

Margaret Kilgallen

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Artist Margaret Kilgallen discusses her influences and the goals she works towards in her art.