Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, July 23, 2001
Rising young artist Margaret Kilgallen dead at 33


The artist Margaret Kilgallen, a recent Stanford graduate whose work has enlivened building exteriors in San Francisco and has been featured in galleries across the country, died June 26 of complications from breast cancer. She was 33.

A native of Washington, D.C., Kilgallen grew up in Kensington, Md. She earned a bachelor's degree in studio art and printmaking at Colorado College before moving to San Francisco, where she was living at the time of her death.

She received a Master of Fine Arts degree June 17 from Stanford. Here, she held a fellowship supported by members of the Cantor Center for Visual Arts and the E. Eric and Elizabeth D. Johnson Fellowship in Studio Art during her first and second academic years, respectively.

Kilgallen's work, which draws on elements of folk art, tramp art and mural painting, has at once a cartoon-like innocence and slight, ironic tang. Her subjects include hobos, alcoholics, carnies and surfer women (Kilgallen was an avid wave rider), portrayed in muted colors. In addition, working as a book conservator at the San Francisco Public Library ­ a job she left in 1997 ­ allowed her to study type fonts and styles, and words and letters figure prominently in her art. She was also an accomplished banjo player.

"Margaret Kilgallen was a remarkably gifted and courageous young woman. Her life is an inspiration to those of us fortunate to have known her," said Kristina Branch, associate professor of art.

Art Professor David Hannah described Kilgallen as a "vital member of her peer group, admired for both her work and her personality."

"She was shy, sweet, quirky, with an infectious sense of mirth, strongly supportive of others, and in possession of all the requisite muscles of a tough, determined artist," Hannah said.

He said her painting installations were increasingly in demand. "Margaret had an impressive gift, which she developed with individuality and verve. She was courageous in addressing the world she inhabited, accepting this subject matter as given, and creating a deeply affecting social art," he said. "The large installation in Philadelphia [at the Institute of Contemporary Art] is a masterful realization of all that Margaret was as an artist. A huge, sprawling work, yet not disjointed, visually powerful, with her magical narrative, terrific color and design, and with the incredible sense of scale that she was capable of when she went all out, no stops. She could really do it, and she did it here. This is a major achievement. ...

"We are saddened by this most tragic story. Margaret was a friend to so many, a wonderful, enchanting spirit whose absence will continue to haunt."

Kilgallen painted a great number of murals around San Francisco, but most have been painted over. Her work has been exhibited at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Santa Barbara Contemporary Art Forum, the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco and the Drawing Room at the Drawing Center in New York, among other venues.

Her work is now on view through July 29 in "East Meets West," an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.

Kilgallen is survived by her husband, artist Barry McGee; a daughter, Asha, who was born on June 7; her parents, Dena and James Kilgallen; two sisters, Lil Kilgallen and Marianne Sullivan; and a brother, Jamie Kilgallen.

Donations can be made to the Asha Kilgallen-McGee Fund, Bayview Bank, 443 Castro St., San Francisco, CA 94114 (ATTN: Mark Harris).