In the August 10 issue of The New Yorker, there is an emotionally complex piece about of the life, work and relationships between the artists Barry McGee, Clare Rojas, and the late Margaret Kilgallen, which the magazine refers to as a “ghostly love triangle.” All of them also, at some point, showed with dealer Jeffrey Deitch at his gallery Deitch Projects in Soho.
The piece includes vivid descriptions of McGee and Kilgallen–who passed away from cancer in 2001 shortly after giving birth to a child that Rojas would eventually go on to raise with McGee, whom she married in 2005; Rojas is roughly twelve years Kilgallen’s junior–as a married couple, working alongside each other in their shared studio in San Francisco.
In the studio they shared, Kilgallen and McGee worked side by side. He showed her how to make her own panels, and she brought home from the library the yellowing endpapers of old books, which they started painting on. She worked on her women; he painted and repainted the sad, sagging faces of the outcast men he saw around the city. They worked obsessively, perfecting their lettering, their cursives, and their lines. “Barry is busy downstairs making stickers,” Kilgallen wrote to a friend. “I hear the squeak of his pen—chisel tipped permanent black—I have been drawing pretty much every day, mostly, silly things; and when I feel brave I have been trying to teach myself how to paint.” When he needed an idea, he’d go over to her space and lift one. Deitch likens them to Picasso and Braque. From a distance, Rojas, too, idealized them. “That was a perfect union, Barry and Margaret,” she says. “You couldn’t get more parallel than the feminine and the masculine communing together.”
As recognition of Kilgallen’s and McGee’s work grew, they tried to retain the ephemeral, pure quality of paintings made on the street. Little pieces they recycled or reworked, sold for a pittance, or let be stolen from the galleries. Wall paintings were whited out when shows closed. When Kilgallen became fascinated by hobo culture, she and McGee started traveling up and down the West Coast to tag train cars with their secret nicknames: B. Vernon, after one of McGee’s uncles, and Matokie Slaughter, a nineteen-forties banjo player Kilgallen revered. The cars marked “B.V. + M.S.” are still out there.
You can read the article in full on The New Yorker‘s website.