One of the enduring legacies in the work of Barry McGee is that everything has always been on the table. A surfboard is a piece of art, a found painting can exist next to one of these meticulous, if not raw, originals; frames could be broken or crooked, installations can literally billow out of the wall, and photography could tie the room together. It seems incredible that the San Francisco artist hasn’t published a book of his photographs, as his zines and installations have frequently used photography as a vital lifeline into explaining the germination of his paintings as both inspiration and content.
Barry McGee: Reproduction, out now via Aperture, is both intimate and irreverent, displaying family photos, street culture, surf outings, and friendship, all somehow seamlessly connected. McGee has long been able to take the most intimate family portraits and combine them with the rawness of graffiti’s subculture, and it feels like the ideal companion to the works he makes. There is a conviction that everything is, indeed alive, and deserves notice and documentation. Over the course of 224 pages and text by fellow photographers Ari Marcopoulos and Sandy Kim, as well as an essay by writer and curator Sandra S. Phillips, the book explores the spontaneity and energy that thrums through the mundane moments of life. As Phillips notes, “The photographs record conspiratorial energy and daring acts: spraying a truck, climbing over each other to mark a wall, working on a mural in a remote space. There is a delicacy to these exchanges, and a bravery that is exciting and important to McGee.” It’s also about enjoying the act of perception, something we don’t always practice but savor when the great ones offer a reminder. —Evan Pricco