Barry McGee

Barry McGee (b. 1966) is a painter and graffiti artist. He is also known by monikers such as Ray Fong, Lydia Fong, Bernon Vernon, P.Kin, Ray Virgil, Twist and further variations of Twist, such as Twister, Twisty, Twisto and others. McGee graduated from El Camino High School in South San Francisco, California. He later graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1991 with a concentration in painting and printmaking.

McGee rose out of the Mission School art movement (‘New Folk’ or “Urban Rustic’) and graffiti boom in the San Francisco Bay Area during the early nineties. His work draws heavily from a pessimistic view of the urban experience, which he describes as, ‘urban ills, overstimulations, frustrations, addictions & trying to maintain a level head under the constant bombardment of advertising.’

McGee’s paintings are very iconic, with central figures dominating abstracted backgrounds of drips, patterns and color fields. He has also painted portraits of street characters on their own empty bottles of liquor, painted flattened spray cans picked up at train yards and painted wrecked vehicles for art shows. He was married to the artist Margaret Kilgallen, who died of cancer in 2001. The couple has a daughter named Asha. The market value of his work rose considerably after 2001 as a result of his being included in the Venice Biennale and other major exhibitions. As a result, much of his San Francisco street art has been scavenged or stolen.

McGee was highly influential on the urban art scene that followed in his wake. He popularized use of paint drips in urban-influenced graphic design, as well as the gallery display technique of clustering paintings. These clustered compositions of pictures are based on similar installations he saw in Catholic churches whilst working in Brazil. He also was an early participant in the practice of painting directly on gallery walls, imitating the intrusive nature of graffiti. His use of chisel tip markers has heavily influenced sticker art and graffiti in general, which can be clearly seen in works produced by artists like sure, faust, and mecro. McGee learned his later lowbrow style from the late Margaret Kilgallen, but was taught graffiti in 1989 by SR-1, the founder of the THR graffiti crew, of which Barry was the second member.

McGee was involved in a controversy regarding the Adidas Y1 HUF, a shoe for which he provided the artwork. This gave rise to a protest campaign by some Asian-Americans who claimed that the picture on the shoe’s tongue depicts a racist stereotype. McGee responded to the controversy in a 2006 press release. He stated that the drawing was a portrait of himself as an eight-year-old child. Barry McGee is half Chinese.

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