Margaret Kilgallen

The late Margaret Kilgallen was a central figure in the San Francisco Bay area street art movement. She was influenced by American folk art, hand-painted signs, typography, and symbology. I was first drawn to her because of her dynamic images and lettering, and only recently learned that she was a bookbinder and had been a book conservator at the San Francisco Public Library. In addition to her mural work, Kilgallen also worked on found paper -- including discarded book endpapers, -- reflecting, it seems, her book arts background.

The first season of the PBS documentary series Art:21 profiled Kilgallen, and had this to say about her:
"Early experiences as a librarian and bookbinder contribute to her encyclopedic knowledge of signs drawn from American folk tradition, printmaking, and letterpress. Painting directly on the wall, Kilgallen creates 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 feature prominently in the artist’s compositions. Her work has been shown at Deitch Projects and the Drawing Room in New York, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Luggage Store in San Francisco, the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Kilgallen’s work was recently presented at the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum. She died in June 2001 in San Francisco, where she lived with her husband, Barry McGee."*
In the Art:21 documentary Kilgallen says:
"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."
This snippet of the documentary shows Kilgallen working,; she also talks about her influences.

You can read the Art:21 interview with Kilgallen here, and see images of Kilgallen's work on Flickr here.

*sadly, Kilgallen died at 33, of complications from breast cancer, three weeks after the birth of her daughter.

Image Credit: Work on paper from installation at UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2000. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer


Judith Hoffman said...

What a nice post. Thanks! It's very inspiring to see this on a rainy afternoon when I have the blahs.

Eero said...

So sad---I had seen her on 21 and enjoyed her work/approach.

Thanks for the B.Day wishes!