A hero of graffiti, surfer, and skate-punk subcultures, Barry McGee makes paintings, sculptures, and multimedia installations that have won wide acclaim in the institutional settings of museums and commercial galleries. McGee popularized the use of paint drips and graphic patterns, painting directly on gallery walls, and is seen as a central figure in transitioning impermanent graffiti to fine art. Clustered like the iconic images he saw when visiting Catholic churches in Brazil, McGee's multipaneled paintings offer handmade empathic illustrations of marginalized characters and a pessimistic view of the urban experience.
McGee was reluctant to participate in traditional art world venues, but since 2004 his work has been seen in settings such as the Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN and the smash hit Art in the Street at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA. Due to his popularity, much of his San Francisco street art has been scavenged or stolen. A major mid-career retrospective travelled from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive to ICA Boston from 2012–2013