For the last few years with some degree of regularity, there have been several iterations of local exhibitions involving San Francisco’s widely acclaimed Mission school artists: from Barry McGee’s expansive retrospective exhibtion at Berkeley Art Museum to “(Almost) Free Formed” with McGee, Johanson, and Laurie Reid at City College San Francisco. However, “Energy That is All Around” featuring over 130 early and formative works by five of the Mission school artists—Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, and Ruby Neri—takes a concentrated focus and dedicated examination with a keen eye and discernment of how the Mission School as an artistic entity evolved and grew, and how it has influenced future generations of local artists. Deepening significance and widening perspectives first examined in her essay, “Was There Ever Really a Mission School: A Partial and Incomplete Oral History” Energy That is All Around curator Natasha Boas reveals within the example of The Mission School how an arc of an art movement is fashioned, whether contemporaneously or in retrospect, within an art age that is increasingly ending the identification of -Isms, epochs, or Schools.
Energy That Is All Around is foremost an eloquent and at times poignant glimpse of the youthful, Utopian energy often found within university years, rife with freedom of artistic expression which heightens appreciation and understanding of the refined, mature artwork of the alums. Strongly influenced by Bay Area Figurative and Beat movement, Funk art, and punk, The Mission School has been often defined by their “street” aesthetic, where art-making was made not in the studio, but in the streets and with others. Artworks within this particular group included motifs and imagery inspired by Folk Art, like sign painting and Tramp Art, and were fashioned with mixed media, chiefly obsolescing items and traditions, or items hitherto not considered art material such as house paint, spray paint, white-out, pens, scrap board, and found objects. Perhaps because of this nostalgic bent as well as its emphasis on communal art-making and experimentation, Boas chose The Mission School as a catalyst to explore wider ideas about art movements, epochs, and groups and how these communities and relationships are formed. This investigation becomes even more necessary since the marked decline in -isms, movements, and groups in the late Modern, or Post-Modernist age. By looking at a wide range of material: complaint letters of studio noise, found art objects, and quick sketches made at the genesis of the artists’ careers (much of which has remained in private collections) to contemporary fine art created exclusively for this show, the exhibition makes meaningful connections between the five artists’ shared formal concerns and ideals, and how their individual practice weaves within and beyond the parameters of the School into which they’ve been placed. Within the exhibition, there is definitely an energy or aesthetic that binds the works, from fine artworks to the ephemera, whether it is the similar or complementary imagery, materials and approaches. Energy That Is All Around strongly illustrates these five artists shared interests and ideals, and also makes this historic era of the Mission School become more palpable and real for the present.
“Energy That Is All Around” will be at San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter & McBean Galleries, 800 Chestnut Street, through December 14, 2013.