The American artist Barry McGee rose to prominence in the early 1990s as part of the graffiti boom in San Francisco. Although McGee is primarily associated with street culture and the self-taught artists of the Mission School art movement, he was formally trained when he studied painting and printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute. Drawing on such diverse influences as the Mexican Muralists, tramp art, surfer culture, graffiti from the 1970s and 1980s, and the beat poets, McGee’s now widely-recognizable imagery is as perceptive and poetic as it is graphic and dynamic. Often focusing his work on social dropouts and those who are marginalized, one of his most popular motifs is a sad-sack man depicted with a furrowed brow or grimace.
Working under the monikers Twist (Twister, Twisty, Twisto), Ray Fong, Lydia Fong, and others, McGee has used the tags to shift from one body of work to the next. The aliases offer the artist a certain freedom, as associations with him personally are filtered through their use. Inspired by the grit and density of city life, McGee has used graffiti to reach a large and indiscriminate audience that might not be accessible through the traditional institutions of art alone. Today, he is an influential and respected cult figure within the urban art scene who straddles both worlds; his drawings, paintings, sculptures, and installations have been exhibited at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Most recently, his work is the subject of a mid-career survey at the UC Berkeley Art Museum, which travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.