Margaret Kilgallen was born on this day in 1967. With a degree in printmaking and professional experiences as a bookbinder and conservator, her work evidenced her interests in vernacular signage and mark-making, “things that show the evidence of the human hand.”
Considered a pivotal member of the Mission School or New Folk movement, Kilgallen was very much inspired by her wanderings through the Mission, her adopted San Francisco neighborhood, often with her husband and collaborator Barry McGee. She observed and recorded many examples of street art, including hand-painted signs, hobo train tagging, murals, and graffiti, parts of which sometimes ended up in her own work.
PBS’ Art:21 includes lots of information about her work, process, and influences. Kilgallen passed away in 2001 at the age of 33, after complications from breast cancer. As a side note, this 1989 NYT article entitled San Francisco’s Real Mission provides a bit of relevant information on Kilgallen’s working context.
I’ve been fascinated by Kilgallen for three reasons: I love her work, I “get” her inspiration and creative process, and I’m only a few years younger than she would have been. I’m really struck by her focus on the ephemeral minutia of vernacular expression, while her own life was more delicate and short-lived than one would have expected. It’s humbling, and makes me feel like I need to hurry up and get more done.