Margaret Kilgallen

February 6, 2000 - April 2, 2000


Margaret Kilgallen’s paintings and murals are celebratory reminders of how people live and move in their day-to-day environments. Kilgallen uses a cartoon-like style to express the lighter side of life, and she inserts elements of folk art, tramp art, mural painting, and lettering in her works. Her depictions of common social scenes portray a range of subjects from vagabonds to surfer women. In her work, Kilgallen transforms the ordinary into the exceptional by giving familiar happenings and images a beauty of their own.

About the Exhibition

By Eugene Joo


A quirky, forgotten adjective in carnival display type some twenty feet high interrupted by another saying, a name, the backside of a woman in a too-tight dress, a number, a barren poplar or slightly bent acacia tree, the letter F rendered in ornate typography, a shelf of old soap, an uncooperative donkey, the word amok, a lone bird, the face of a fleshy-lipped woman. Margaret Kilgallen’s passion for books, trains, folklore, and craft bursts onto the gallery walls, spinning page upon page, image upon image, in a glorious autumnal gust. The walls now house a series of displaced signs liberated from the rigidity of a singular narrative. Each gesture is a temporal moment buying for autonomy; each painted element demands its own intimate consideration.


Whether evidenced in the line work of Indian miniature painting, an image of a bird scratched on the side of a freight car, or her own painted and sewn works, the artist respects the maker’s hand. Frequent family trips to western Maryland during her childhood taught Kilgallen great appreciation for Amish craftsmanship in quilting, furniture making, and sign painting—and for the philosophy behind it. As a result, says the artist, “I Have always had an admiration for things that are well made, or not even well made. What you have to make in order to live.”(1) On these trips Kilgallen was also exposed to “white, white country people” whose fiddle and banjo contests, craft fairs, and auctions showed her a way of life that has fueled an ongoing curiosity about folk traditions, especially old-time music, its history, and how that history is at the heart the history of the United States. More

Eungie Joo is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studied at the University of California, Berkeley.

1. Conversation with the author, 3 December 1999.
2. Conversation with the author, 3 December 1999; see the discussion of the halam, a Wolof instrument, in Cecelia Conway, African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995).
3. See Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear (New York: Vintage, 1999).
4. Conversation with the author, 3 December 1999.


Hammer Projects is made possible, in part, with support from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Peter Norton Family Foundation, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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