Street Art: Barry McGee
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Street art’s impermanence is both its hallmark and occasional downfall. A sighting of a favorite artist’s work is a gift, but a fleeting one that the law, a building owner, an overzealous fan or a competing graffiti writer could easy steal or paint over. Which makes it all the more amazing that Palm Beach Modern Auctions will feature a monumental Barry McGee work in its November 2nd auction.
The consignor reportedly received the piece in the latter 1990s from a San Francisco gallery show, apparently left behind after closing. He discussed it with McGee at Art Basel Miami in 2010, where McGee confirmed that it was in fact his, and gave him the okay to keep it. Photos of the consignor and the artist at Art Basel Miami serve as provenance for the auction.
The 85.5in tall by 105in wide piece is one of the largest of its kind. It is also reminiscent of the hobo art seen on trains running between San Francisco — where McGee is based — and Canada.
It is characteristic of McGee’s work at the time, which often featured figures in gray. McGee’s later work is often brighter and primary colored. In the canvas to be auctioned on November 2nd, a wide-eyed man perches on all fours, hands folded in front of him. White paint drips flow out of his head and neck like tears, another frequent McGee motif, as he brought paint drips to urban art and graffiti. The man is rendered in shades of gray and off white, except for his hair, which is brown and shiny, as if it miraculously survived a months-long tour riding the rails, even better than the rest of him.
“Ernon” is also written on the man’s hand, one of the countless monickers McGee has adopted during his career. The best known of McGee’s pseudonyms is “Twist.” Others include Ray Fong, Lydia Fong, and Bernon Vernon. There are many more.
The man was painted on a piece of deconstructed, surplus US Army canvas, a common material for McGee, but one not often seen in this large size. Among other places, the artwork appeared at The Buddy System, McGee’s 1999 show at Deitch Projects in New York City. In the notes for the exhibit, McGee explained that his work “[tries] to capture the overload of the senses one might feel walking down the street of any one of our fine American cities.”
There are three other street artists in Palm Beach Modern’s auction, including Shepard Fairey, Katsu, and Purvis Young. Danny Simmons (brother of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons), Donald Roller Wilson and Jamie Reid are also included. Their work is not street art in the strictest sense, but is related to or seen on the street, e.g., Reid’s silkcreen posters for various punk bands, and Wilson’s playful, surrealist motifs that are popular among street art fans.
To contact the auction gallery, call 561-586-5500 or email email@example.com. View the fully illustrated auction catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/46267_modern-art-decorative-artssculptural-design/page1.
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