When Barry McGee–better known as Twist–came of age as an artist in the ’90s Bay Area, graffiti and fine art were still considered mutually exclusive. McGee was one of the first artists to challenge that assumption, doing solo gallery shows while still maintaining his reputation as a street artist. “It doesn’t matter to me where I show,” said McGee recently. “I could show in an alleyway and be happy.” Today, McGee is considered “graffiti royalty,” whose upcoming retrospective at the Berkeley Museum of Art is being hotly anticipated.
Last month the 46-year-old San Franciscan put on a solo show at L.A.’s Prism gallery, a space he and Phil Frost inaugurated back in 2009. It was fascinating to see how Twist’s signature voice–which is concerned with “trying to maintain a level head under the constant bombardment of advertising”–has evolved after major commercial success, like a collaboration with Adidas and inclusion in the last Venice Biennale.
Judging by the show, McGee is still using the language of advertising to address subversive topics. The pieces on view range from ’50s-style supergraphic patterns to primitivist kinetic sculptures with moving arms wielding wooden cans of spray paint. In one corner, a batch of beaten-up surfboards serve as a canvas for some of his signature character drawings.
The centerpiece of the show is a patchwork of framed paintings, drawings, and photographs that bulge out from the gallery wall like a slow wave. The cluster piece has been shown a few times before, but the artist remakes it for every show, adding new frames and rebuilding the bulging wall beneath it. In McGee’s world, process comes before product.