Perrotin Paris is pleased to host a new exhibition of works by American artist Barry McGee, his third solo exhibition with the gallery, and the first in Paris. Using a playful range of media, the artist shares his candid and insightful observation of modern society and a continued dedication to recognizing and supporting marginalized communities.
Barry McGee has mastered the art of turnaround, which surely stems from his legendary street alias, TWIST. In his studio, graffiti extends beyond the plastic form, reaching towards experience, material, memory, attitude, an underground community. Inside or outside, Barry McGee’s painting is thus a situationist drift within anesthetized cities. Privatized cities where structures proliferate and hostile architecture blocks errant lives: the vertigo of skaters, pigeons and all other potential sources of disorder.
A reluctant icon of the California scene, exhibiting legally or illegally in the streets, in alternative spaces or in institutions, Barry McGee always paints according to the exaggerated scale of the urban landscape. Photography, sculpture, drawing, performance, video, salvage, archives, fanzines: the artist manipulates different media without hierarchy, but always akin to a painter who explores, documents and manipulates urban memory.
What I love about graffiti is that no one knows who I am. It’s the feeling of pure freedom. I just have to change my name, and nobody cares about my tag. Graffiti is the only thing I can do without anyone appropriating it.
Digging into his family history explains the recurrence of Asian figures and the display of violently overturned cars and trucks in his paintings. Barry McGee was born in San Francisco in 1966 to a Chinese-American mother, who worked as a secretary, and an Irish-American father, who specialized in car body repair and customization. His father compulsively drew on coffee shop napkins in pen. These compositions are still today included in Barry McGee’s exhibitions; they’re also at the origin of his drawings of faces with hairy reflections, based on a haunting homeless man with a peculiar hairstyle and beard he crossed paths with.
Barry McGee’s anger is faint but continues. A calm anger, expressed in black and red within the artist’s paintings. A painting practice which, failing to reverse the system, propagates itself like termites do, gnawing away at structures of domination. Such is Barry McGee’s painting: a silent bite mark that incites other ones.
Text by Hugo Vitrani
Born in San Francisco, California, USA
Lives and works in San Francisco, California, USA
Barry McGee received his BFA in painting and printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute and was associated with the Mission School, a movement primarily influenced by urban realism, graffiti, and American folk art, with a focus on social activism. McGee’s works constitute candid and insightful observations of modern society, and his aim of actively contributing to marginalized communities has remained the same throughout his career, from his days as “Twist” (his graffiti moniker) to his current work as a global artist. Whether it be consumerism or social stratification, McGee has given voice to his concerns through his art, taking on different personas, such as Ray Fong, Lydia Fong, P.Kin, Ray Virgil, and B. Vernon. His trademark motif, a male caricature with droopy eyes, references his empathy for those who identify the streets as their home. His conglomeration of experiences has led McGee to create a unique visual language consisting of geometric patterns, recurring symbols, and the use of the “cluster method,” while experimenting with various unconventional media, including glass bottles and other found objects. His recent large-scale murals and his meticulous archive of paintings and drawings examine the notion of public versus private space and the accessibility of art.
McGee’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at museums and institutions including Fondazione Prada, Milan; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, California. His works are part of public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the UC Berkeley Museum of Art and Pacific Film Archive; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; New Art Gallery Walsall, United Kingdom; and Fondazione Prada, Venice.