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The Arty Side of Comic-Con: Margaret Kilgallen

A lot of people don't realize that there is some amazing art to be found at

Comic-Con . No, I'm not going to argue for comic books or graphic novels as an art form.

That argument has been made and should be well accepted at this point.

I'm talking about fine art produced by some of the country's young emerging and established painters, illustrators and sculptors. At Comic-Con, they were clustered in an area of the convention hall called Artist's Alley. I spent some time there this past Saturday, and over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorite discoveries with you.

I'll start with the only purchase I made at the Con. It's a book I bought at the Giant Robot booth (which isn't in Artist's Alley, but sells fine art prints and books). It features the work of Margaret Kilgallen , an artist whose work I've long admired. Her work falls into a category that gets labeled everything from urban surrealism, urban folk art, grafitti-based art, to contemporary urban narrative. I haven't heard a consistently used term, but a lot of the artists lumped into these various categories are written about in magazines like Juxtapoz and Giant Robot.

Margaret Kilgallen's Sloe, 1998

Kilgallen was married to grafitti/fine artist Barry McGee , and I saw both of their artwork a couple of years ago in the Beautiful Losers show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. I had just moved to the west coast and Kilgallen's work, though she never lived in the south, had a very southern, outsider-artist sensibility. I was homesick, and seeing her pieces reminded me of the southern outsider folk art that I loved.

Kilgallen was inspired by old signs and typography. For many years, she worked as a book conservator at the San Francisco Public Library, which allowed her to study different typefaces. I like that she focused on this kind of minutia, since typefaces are everywhere and generally go unnoticed by most of us.

Other inspiration for Kilgallen's work were old books, hobo train writing, carnivals, and old time, Americana folk music. Her love of folk traditions and storytelling are the cornerstone of her art. She was particularly fascinated with women in folk traditions and, being based in California, images of immigrant women appear often in her art. Kilgallen also painted hundreds of murals throughout the city of San Francisco, many of which have now been painted over.

Kilgallen's career really started to take off in the late 1990's. This is where the story turns tragic. Kilgallen died in 2001 at the age of 33, due to complications from breast cancer. Her daughter, Asha, was born a month before her death. Since then, McGee, her husband, has been raising Asha while continuing his own art career and keeping Kilgallen's work in the public eye.

The book I bought is called Margaret Kilgallen: In the Sweet Bye and Bye . It was produced in conjunction with a retrospective of her work at Redcat gallery in Los Angeles in 2005.

I recommend some time spent with Kilgallen's art in any way you can make it happen. Her work will transport you to an old-fashioned street culture all her own. Trust me, it's a lovely place to visit.