They Don’t Make This Anymore
Barry McGee’s first major UK solo exhibition includes a selection of existing and new works in an installation created specifically for BALTIC’s Level 2 gallery.Rooted in the spontaneity and immediacy of graffiti culture, McGee’s direct approach considers both the melancholy and humour of life.
Disrupting ideas of property, surveillance and control, his uncontained practice incorporates damaged surfaces, flash movies and hundreds of ‘tape’ paintings to question the privatisation of public space.
Since the mid 1980s McGee has worked on thestreets of his native San Francisco using the graffiti tagging moniker ‘Twist’. He has worked to shift our focus from the enticements of massmedia consumer culture and the subversive power of billboard advertising. With the direct,human communication of graffiti he asserts aplace in his surroundings and questions theprivatisation of public space.McGee sees graffiti as a pure expressionof the American Dream. As he explains:
“The American Dream has nothing to do with criminality, but with a desire for independenceand adventure, so escaping from any kind ofcontrol or definition also signifies not being identified, acting illegally, standing outsideof every category of art and interventionon the streets.”
In recent years McGee has become moreactive in a conventional art gallery context. Taking a “do-it-yourself” independent, creative approach, he is driven by the spontaneity and immediacy of graffiti culture. Referencingfamiliar features of the urban landscape, McGee captures the boredom, failureand melancholy of urban life with humour.He draws on many influences including artactivism, performance, graffiti art of theseventies and eighties, the Mexican muralists,the lyric flow of the San Francisco beat poets,punk and hardcore music, traditional signwriters, American folk culture, tramps,transients and drunks.
McGee is perhaps best known for his site-specific wall paintings featuring satirical figurative imagery, text, floating heads and graffiti tags. Using disgarded materials, his work highlights an ambivalent relationship toward consumerism, with a sense of nostalgia for handmade forms of communication.He creates installations that echo the detritus of city excess including seemingly disorderedand chaotic clusters of elements including wood, metal, paint, found objects,animatronics, destroyed surfaces, animation,f lickering screens, photos and hundreds of ‘tape’ paintings.
At BALTIC, McGee’s very personal response to the mass-produced brings the elements of hisvaried working practices together; in doing sothis exhibition challenges boundaries, andembodies what has made him one of the mostrespected graffiti artists to continue working since the early 1980s.
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