In the early 1990s, many aspiring San Francisco artists lived and worked in the Mission District, a gritty, low-rent area of the city. Among them were San Francisco Art Institute undergraduates Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, and Ruby Neri, along with friends Chris Johanson and Margaret Kilgallen. Turning their backs on the Bay Area dot-com boom—which brought to the neighborhood an influx of young professionals, upscale shops, chic restaurants, and eviction threats—they embraced street aesthetics and lowbrow visual culture such as cartoons, signage, and folk art. All made and promoted graffiti; all had tag names. All moved easily between representation and abstraction, the street and the studio, and worked in various media including painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, and installation. Although each developed a distinct artistic style and philosophy, they all were drawn to the radical and the political. Not surprisingly, all took inspiration from Bay Area Figuration, the Beats, Funk art, and Punk. They likewise witnessed how hard San Francisco was hit by the AIDS epidemic. By 2002, these high-octane and previously obscure artists were retroactively dubbed the Mission School by critic Glen Helfand.
The Mission School, however, is less a movement than an ethos. Nor does ENERGY THAT IS ALL AROUND purport to be a definitive survey. Instead it focuses on rarely seen early work by five key Mission School practitioners. Johanson, Kilgallen, McCarthy, McGee, and Neri often collaborated and showed their work in the same alternative venues. Moreover their art evokes a paradox: while it appears to be slapdash and unfinished, it is actually highly considered and resolved. With the exception of Margaret Kilgallen—who died prematurely in 2001—they remain friends and still share an affinity for humble and/or discarded materials, a devotion to community, and an anti-consumerist stance. Highlighting their aesthetic contributions as well as subversions, ENERGY THAT IS ALL AROUND provides a raffish and spirited introduction to the distinctive work of some of California’s most innovative contemporary artists.
“Over the years, in many ways, [Johanson] has emerged as not only a great chronicler of this culture but one of its great shamans. Using only his mind and his hands, he has created a wild path for himself, and a vision of hard, hilarious truth for his community. One imagines that the words emanating from one of his faceted abstract shapes might be speaking in Johanson’s own voice: PLEASE LISTEN, the shape says, I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU ABOUT WHAT IS.”
—Jon Raymond, Artforum
Born in 1968, Chris Johanson currently splits his time between Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, California. He was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the 2005 Istanbul Biennial, and the 2006 Berlin Biennial, and has exhibited extensively in group and solo shows nationally and internationally, including solo shows at Jack Hanley Gallery and Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco; Deitch Projects and Mitchell-lnnes & Nash in New York; and Galerie Georg Kargl in Vienna. In 2003, he received a SECA Art Award from SFMOMA. In 2013, Phaidon released a monograph on Johanson as part of its celebrated Contemporary Artists series. Johanson also operates Awesome Vistas—a record label that produces limited-edition vinyl in collaboration with musicians and artists. Johanson is represented in New York by The Suzanne Geiss Company and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, and in San Francisco by Altman Siegel Gallery.
“The overall result [of Kilgallen’s work] was impure Americana, a slightly acidic nostalgia that evoked sideshows, tramp art and old travel posters with infusions of feminist wit. Her women smoked, fought, surfed, played the banjo and occasionally hooked up with men.”
—Roberta Smith, The New York Times
Margaret Kilgallen was born in 1967 in Washington, D.C. She received a BA in printmaking from Colorado College in 1989 and an MFA from Stanford University in 2001. Her work has been shown at Deitch Projects and The Drawing Center in New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and The Luggage Store in San Francisco; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Other significant exhibitions include the 2002 Whitney Biennial; the 2005 survey exhibition Margaret Kilgallen: In the Sweet Bye & Bye at REDCAT, Los Angeles; and the 2004–6 touring exhibition Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture. Kilgallen passed away prematurely in 2001. Her estate is represented by Ratio 3, San Francisco.
“McCarthy’s current work retains much of what made it compelling then, a repertoire of practices that […] amounted to a collective artistic style in the queer and Punk undergrounds of the late 1990s. These included: a deep romance for the handwritten and handmade; a love of cartoons, naive drawings and misspelt words; an emphasis on using found materials and the recuperation of (supposedly) démodé media such as painting or woodblock printing.”
—Julian Myers, Frieze
Alicia McCarthy was born in 1969, and lives and works in San Francisco. She received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1994, and also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the New York Studio School. In 2007, she received an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been exhibited in venues including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and The Luggage Store in San Francisco; and Deitch Projects and RARE Gallery in New York. Honors include an artist residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts and a 2013 Artadia Award. McCarthy is represented by Jack Hanley Gallery, New York.
“Barry McGee’s distinctive style, collaborative approach, and celebration of the energy of the street have profoundly influenced a generation of international artists. Barry would be the first to say that his contribution is not singular, that he was just one of many who broke out of the confines of art schools, galleries, and museums in the 1980s and 1990s to make the city itself a living space for art and activism.”
—Lawrence Rinder and Dena Beard, Barry McGee (BAM/PFA and DAP/Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2012)
Born in 1966 in California, Barry McGee received a BFA in painting and printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1991. Known by the tag name “Twist” for his graffiti and street art, McGee has also developed a career within museums and galleries, exhibiting drawings, paintings, prints, and large-scale, mixed-media installations that take inspiration from urban culture, incorporating elements such as empty liquor bottles, cans of spray paint, signs, scrap wood or metal, surfboards, and other found materials. His work has been shown at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; SFMOMA; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Deitch Projects, New York; and the 2001 Venice Biennale. A mid-career survey was recently on view at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. McGee is represented by Cheim & Read, New York, and Ratio 3, San Francisco.
“Her dazzling yet strangely subdued works marry the discipline of Formalism to the boldness of Expression-ism, making for a union that is original and moving—of the moment, and out of this world.”
—David Pagel, Los Angeles Times
Born in the 1970s into the collegial environment of artists in San Francisco, Ruby Neri was initially influenced by the painters and ceramicists closely associated with her father, the Bay Area Figurative sculptor Manuel Neri. While studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, Neri worked as a street artist under the name “Reminisce,” or “REM.” Her later influences include American folk artists, early-20th-century German Expressionists, and mid-century modern European sculptors. Neri holds a BFA from SFAI and an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has had solo exhibitions at David Kordanksy Gallery and China Art Objects in Los Angeles, and John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, California, among other venues. Group exhibitions include Made in LA 2012, organized by the Hammer Museum and LAXART; andBitch Is the New Black, curated by Emma Gray for Honor Fraser, Los Angeles. Neri is represented by David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.