Alice Karle Appraisal

Fine & Decorative Art

Margaret Kilgallen

Margaret Kilgallen
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Margaret Kilgallen

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Margaret Kilgallen (1967-2001) was an artist of the Mission School in the San Francisco Bay. She shared a studio with her husband, the artist Barry McGee. The work shown here is an assemblage of patinated copper and zinc colored painted panels with botanicals, hand-lettered graphics, and faces.

The twenty-five panels each measure approximately 13” x 9”. Each individual panel is a metal printers’ tray, presented bottom side up. These trays were used to hold lead relief type for printing, a method already largely archaic at the time this work was produced, accentuating a sense of connection to the past. An important work by the artist, the assemblage was exhibited in San Francisco in 1996 as part of a larger group of approximately 78 total panels. Margaret Kilgallen is represented in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

She valued the rough and the hand made, and is most noted for her highly graphic works, especially of strong women. Kilgallen also painted letters and symbols, of which this assemblage is an example.

Margaret Kilgallen began her career as a librarian. She was a printmaker and traditional letterpress printer, strongly drawn to language and typography as avenues of visual expression. The idea of language and images as expressions of a common artistic language first gained impetus as a movement with the Symbolists of the 19th century. Arthur Rimbaud’s and Paul Verlaine’s poetry, and Paul Gauguin’s paintings gave rise to the Symbolist Movement in literature, and in art to Les Nabis, of whom Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard were prominent members.

The idea of the word, or letter, as an image in itself, equally as meaningful as an object, was further developed in a number of early 20th century art movements, the analytic cubism of Braque and Picasso, the Imagists and Vorticists led by the poet Ezra Pound and the artist Wyndham Lewis, and the manifestoes of the Italian and Russian Futurists. Margaret Kilgallen draws on this history, but she also had a strong connection to Folk Art and her work is distinctly American.