Barry Mcgee Painter Graffiti Artist Cultural Studies Essay

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After working secretively on the streets, McGee fell into the art world through the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Business and property owners appreciated his talent and were compensated for the artwork he made. Showcasing his work at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art gained recognition, which led to other establishments all over the world ( This form of legal vandalism maintained and fulfilled his need for destruction. "Destruction is everywhere" ( It is apparent in his artwork as he tries to convey this message. He embraces destruction from all he has built. Perhaps this is a product of personal tragedies?

McGee's complex use of mediums conveys a message of social separation, organized chaos, and contrasted ensemble of snapshots compared to the rich city structures, which it is laid on. Barry McGee, who has a passion for graffiti art, says, "I like that process of a thing discarded, then picked up, and intercepted." ( Some examples are bundles of glass liquor bottles hang with painted pictures of people and other portrayals of dispirited street characters. His trademark icon, "a caricatured male figure with sagging eyes and bemused expression, recalls the homeless people and transients who call the streets their home. It communicates the artist's strong empathy with people who have been left behind by contemporary society" (Video on: His paintings and mixed media artwork take their creativeness from urban culture, using elements such as tagged signs, wrecked cars, and scrap wood or metal. McGee uses graffiti as a method of communication, which touches a larger and diverse audience than cannot be felt through the conventional spaces of a museum ( He communicates with the path chosen by creating clusters of small-framed drawings and snapshots of his own artwork. Bulging outward and not flat, it screams out to the viewer of his cry for attention.

Critics say his artwork is overvalued defacement. Art is subjective and it will always be whether graffiti is allowed or sanctioned artwork in a gallery. An example took place in Australia when the "Sydney City Council has been accused of vandalism after [McGee was given permission] but has controversially painted…another wall by mistake" ( A similar example happened locally during July 2011 here in Norfolk, Virginia when Kevin Gallup "…let a crew of graffiti artists paint the former trolley station he is renovating. The art is temporary, he said, until construction is finished" (

The city issued a graffiti violation notice. Apparently inspectors issue citations before investigating the problem first. "In this case…inspectors didn't know the art had been approved by Gallup". "If they gave permission, then under the code, it's not graffiti". "It's someone's version of art" (

Barry McGee has successfully done what no other graffiti has accomplished. He has established his name and artwork for over 20 years globally. Many graffiti artists do not make it in this industry due to the legality nature of the work. Some may end up going to jail while others leave their life of crime behind. Perhaps he made the right decision to focus his talents while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute. His efforts clearly shows that it was not wasted due to his success in the art world. While he refers to himself with the statement "oh, that guy sold out", he fears that his street credibility will fade like the graffiti 'tags' he creates ( McGee has exhibited his works worldwide such as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; UCLA Hammer Museum, Deitch Projects, New York, UCLA Hammer Museum, Foundation Cartier, Paris, and Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2001 Venice Biennale, the 2002 Liverpool Biennial, the Meat Market in Melbourne, Australia, a collaborative project with Kaldor Art Projects and the National Gallery of Victoria and most recently at Museum Het Domein, the Netherlands. Los Angeles; and on streets and trains all over the United States. The value of McGee's work has risen significantly since 2001, when it began to gain recognition and be shown at major exhibitions. He has matured and progressed from his roots of graffiti. This urban artist will find another project to create and destroy.