Barry McGee

This iconic artist has been doing graffiti for over 40 years. World-class museums and galleries revere his work, but he’s never stopped tagging the streets.

2 min read

Can you stay underground when you've made it to the top?

Art icon Barry McGee lives a double life – Barry McGee, the global fine art heavyweight, and Twist, the graffiti legend.

It all started back in 1980s San Francisco. As a teenager, Barry roamed the city with his friends, tagging under his alias Twist. He was on the scene with the likes of Reminisce, KR, SHOK, DUG, ORFN, Amaze, Tie and Meta.

That's immediately how I gauge how healthy a city is, by the amount of tags. It's in direct competition with advertising. It's still one of the last things that I feel like hasn't been corrupted.

After finishing art school in 1991, Barry became a key member of the Mission School – a group of artists based in San Francisco's Mission District. The group's low-fi aesthetic drew from the grittiness and beauty of city life.

It's kind of dirty, kind of broken. It's basically the whole mess of it that makes it work.

Barry McGee tagging in San Francisco as Twist, 2000

Untitled (Crawling Man), 1999/2012

Untitled 2013

Soon, the art world wanted to pay attention to Barry. "[He] started getting shows in like '93, '94," says friend and fellow graffiti artist Stephen Powers aka ESPO. "By '95, it was really cooking. By '98, he's at Deitch. All his doors were open. The lights were on. Everything was there."

The influential curator and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch supported Barry early on. "I've worked with hundreds of artists, great artists," says Jeffrey. "But I have no hesitation in saying that of all the artists I've worked with. It's Barry who's my favourite."

In 2001, Barry's art was put on the art world map for good after exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in collaboration with his two friends, ESPO and Todd James.

Since then, Barry's prolific output has been revered by major galleries and museums across the world. His work is ever-evolving, and he's exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, LACMA, BAMPFA and Perrotin.

But Barry has always been sceptical of success.

I'm wary of this idea that you have to get bigger exposure, bigger audiences. It's all bullshit to me. What's so great about that?

In this age of clout-chasing and follower counts, Barry doesn't play the game. He has no Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or even a website. Instead, Barry lets his art and legendary status speak for itself.

Untitled, 1998



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