Copenhagen Gets a Taste of San Francisco in Alicia McCarthy’s First European Solo Show
In a new body of work at V1 Gallery in Copenhagen titled “Snobody,” Alicia McCarthy presents energetic compositions characterized by a structured naiveté. Utilizing a language of abstract shapes and stacked colors, her childlike drawing style, seemingly free from formal constraints, is influenced both by modern primitivist artists such as Paul Klee and contemporaries working outside traditional systems—punks, outsider and folk artists, urban graffitists, and scavengers.
McCarthy is best known as part of an influential group of artists referred to as the “Mission School,” featured in the traveling exhibition “Beautiful Losers” (2004-06) and the 2008 documentary of the same title—and named after their home-base in San Francisco’s pre-gentrified 1990s Mission District. The works of the loosely associated group, which also includes Barry McGee and Ruby Neri, were strongly influenced by the very particular culture of the Bay Area, one that fosters individualism. Through abstract and textual forms, McCarthy and the other Mission School artists continue to embrace the lowbrow and champion the derelict. “I think the work dismantles ideas of preciousness within the art world, and these constructed value systems of what is valuable,” McCarthy has explained. “The innate elitism of the art world is something that’s bothered me mainly because I have a lot of friends that can’t afford to go to these spaces or feel outside of them…I think it’s more of an aesthetic politicism.”
“Snobody” is McCarthy’s first solo exhibition in Europe and features sculpture, drawings, and new paintings made with house and spray paints, colored pencil, and liquid graphite. In some works, abstract forms begin to resemble specific, often female-oriented, folk art practices, such as quilting and weaving. Other more minimal, gestural works share slapdash mark-making with graffiti, as loose-handed strokes sit restlessly against neutral backgrounds. The works are painted on found wood, which McCarthy uses both practically—as a surface to work on—and as a way in which to reject the conventions of traditional painting on white canvas with exclusive materials. Despite the changed face of today’s Mission District, “Snobody” seems to whisper to the viewer that the nonconformist eccentrics of yesterday’s San Francisco are still around and have something to say.