Margaret Kilgallen

Margaret Kilgallen (1967 – 2001) was a San Francisco Bay Area artist. Though a contemporary artist, her work showed a strong influence from folk art. She was considered a central figure in the Bay Area Mission School art movement (sometimes called ‘New Folk’ or ‘Urban Rustic’). Kilgallen was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up nearby in Kensington, Maryland.

She received a BFA in printmaking from Colorado College in 1989 and an MFA from Stanford University in 2001. Though diagnosed with breast cancer, Kilgallen opted to forgo chemotherapy so that she might carry a pregnancy to term. She died in 2001, at age 33, three weeks after the birth of Asha, her daughter with her husband and collaborator Barry McGee.

Kilgallen’s paintings and murals reflected a variety of influences, including the dying art of hand-painted signs, elements of American folk art, mural painting, and a variety of formal painting strategies. At an early age, she was impressed by examples of works by Southwest and Mexican artists, and she employed their use of warm colors in her own painting. Her many works in gouache and acrylic on found paper (often discarded book endpapers) reflect an interest in typographic styles and symbology that can be traced to her work as a book conservator with Dan Flanagan at the San Francisco Public Library in the early to mid-1990s.

In addition to her commissioned mural work, Kilgallen was also a graffiti artist under the tag names ‘Meta’ and ‘Matokie Slaughter.’ The latter name, a homage to folk musician Matokie Slaughter, was specifically used for freight train graffiti. Kilgallen was an accomplished banjo player and became an avid surfer after moving to California.

Kilgallen was a constant reader and thinker, looking to Appalachian music, signage, letterpress printing, freight train vandal art, and religious and decorative arts to inform her work. Her work demonstrates her respect for and engagement with craftsmanship and the stories of everyday peoples’ lives. She was especially interested in ‘the evidence of the maker’s hand.’ As she explained: ‘I like things that are handmade and I like to see people’s hand in the world, anywhere in the world; it doesn’t matter to me where it is. And in my own work, I do everything by hand. I don’t project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always be imperfect because it’s human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting, that even if I’m doing really big letters and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I’ll never be able to make it straight. From a distance it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.’

Kilgallen had close ties with a number of other artists including Chris Johanson, Josh Lazcano, and Alicia McCarthy, filmmaker Bill Daniel, and musician Tommy Guerrero, for whom she designed album covers.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.