Tag Archives: Alicia McCarthy

Art Show: Random Thoughts On San Francisco’s ‘Mission School’

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I saw wonderful art at the San Francisco Art Institute yesterday, and it reminded me that life, or should I say LIFE, the need to be creative in a world that values conformity, goes on. Sometimes I forget that people continue to struggle with finding, oh what is it, a kind of freedom, or maybe a point of view, or, bottom line, some “truth,” as John Lennon put it (“gimmie some truth,” he sang), amidst the lies that parade before us as reality.

Guy Debord called it “the Spectacle,” a kind of religious monolith that consumer societies have made of working your life away in pursuit of the next purchase. The art I saw is raw, violent in it’s opposition to mindless conformity.

All of that and more was colliding inside me as I looked at work made by a group of artists now known as the “Mission school,” since they lived or worked in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The show is called “Energy That Is All Around,” and it’s in the Walter and McBean Galleries. The artists whose work is on exhibit: Chris Johanson, the late Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, Ruby Neri and Alice McCarthy. Most of it was made between 1992 and 2000.

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“Untitled” by Margaret Kilgallen, 1997, paint on wood with coins, 29 x 15 x 5 inches.

Kilgallen and McGhee (who were married) I know from the excellent documentary film “Beautiful Losers.” While Kilgallen worked in a kind of Americana style influenced by hand made signs, old trains, carnivals, Appalachian music and the like, McGhee’s down-on-their-luck characters slumped inside wine bottles portray a darker reality.

“Untitled,” by Barry McGee, 1994, mixed media on driftwood, 16x 22 inches.

Chris Johanson offers social commentary in some of his work, mocking the Hallmark cards idea of true love, or simply documenting San Francisco’s outrageous housing prices, and the homeless that can be found throughout the city.


This is a kind of outsider art, though in this case I’m using ‘outsider’ to mean something akin to the Occupy movement. Those of us on the outside of a world that the .01 percenters have erected.

If there is a soundtrack to the art I saw yesterday, it would be the dissonant guitars of Sonic Youth, or the home made sounds of indie rocker Jason Molina’s Songs:Ohia recordings.