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The Graffiti Aesthetic: The Art of Barry McGee

SFARTS and Art21's continued partnership exploring the influence of Bay Area artists, this month features artist Barry McGee

Revered as a prominent figure within the bi-coastal subculture encompassing skaters, graffiti artists, and West Coast surfers, Barry McGee was born in California in 1966. He earned a BFA in painting and printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1991. Drawing inspiration from contemporary urban culture, McGee's work spans drawings, paintings, and mixed-media installations, often incorporating elements like discarded liquor bottles, spray-paint cans, tagged signs, wrenches, and scrap wood or metal. 

A renowned graffiti artist operating under the moniker "Twist" since the 1980s, McGee became interested in tagging while growing up in San Francisco. Art21’s film “Barry McGee: Tagging” follows McGee through his self-titled retrospective exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA). Despite his close connection to street culture, McGee has maintained an active studio practice which he describes as being something “completely different.” 

McGee perceives graffiti as a crucial mode of communication, enabling him to engage with a broader and more diverse audience compared to traditional gallery or museum spaces. His signature motif, a male caricature with drooping eyes and a wry expression, evokes the presence of homeless individuals and transient populations who inhabit urban streets. 

McGee’s work is currently featured in a group exhibition entitled “Into View: New Voice, New Stories” through October 17, 2024, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. 

Learn more about Art21 at art21.org and across social media at @art21

SFARTS and Art21's continued partnership explores the influence of Bay Area artists.


Production stills from the Art21 Extended Play (formerly “Exclusive”) film, "Barry McGee: Tagging" © Art21, Inc. 2013.



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