The Captivating Artistry of Alicia McCarthy

Interview by Sasha Bogojev and portrait by Delon Isaacs

This year, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary, Lazinc is honored to sit down and talk with a Bay Area artist who represented the scene surrounding the magazine when it was founded. Back in the 1990s, San Francisco was the mecca for skateboarding kids around the world, but also a vibrant underground art hub, spreading a colorful, contagious vibe around the world through zines, music, and occasional features in print. The immediacy of the burgeoning scene connected with other rebellious youth cultures, creating a unique language of punks, surfers, and graffiti outlaws hanging out in the Mission that marked and influenced generations way beyond the Bay Area. Certainly among those artists is Alicia McCarthy, whose work fuses the honest energy of the scene. Folk, graffiti, punk, and abstraction all weave into a labyrinth of loose lines, unexpected visuals, and spontaneous personal marks, and the legacy of the Mission School remains a model for many emerging creatives.

A Conversation with Alicia McCarthy

Meeting Alicia at the opening of her solo show with Copenhagen’s V1 Gallery back in 2018 and having the opportunity to huddle together at the opening of her debut solo show with Brussels’ Alice Gallery earlier in 2019 was like being granted access to a documentarian of that time and place. While I had a massive appreciation for her work for the reasons cited, as well as our mutual interests, this conversation revealed a whole new dimension of meanings behind her captivating colorful weaves.

Sasha Bogojev: Connecting Lazinc’s 25th anniversary with the early days of The Mission School

Alicia McCarthy: What’s that?

Sasha Bogojev: How do you feel about that term?

Alicia McCarthy: How I feel about the term is that it stems more back to when Glen Helfand originally wrote the article. So really, it’s him and his take on what he observed in the ’90s. For me, it was my life. It felt special, but it didn’t feel like we were doing something.

Sasha Bogojev: Yeah, it doesn’t really need a label, does it?

Alicia McCarthy: No, not at all, and the hilarious thing is that the people who are listed don’t have an attachment to that and aren’t the type of people that ever do anything like that.

Sasha Bogojev: But, you know, there’s usually an urge, especially in the art world, to categorize things.

Alicia McCarthy: Right, your guys’ job.

Found artwork, Oakland, California

The Influential Moments and Friendships

Sasha Bogojev: Do you have any idea if there was a defining moment that made that whole scene so widely recognized and popular?

Alicia McCarthy: No, and I don’t really think about it much, to be honest. But in terms of what resulted in that, I think the critical moment for me was meeting the first group of friends at Humboldt State, which is a college in Northern California. My boyfriend at the time and I transferred down to the SF Art Institute. His father is a Bay Area artist, Richard Shaw. He and Ruby Neri’s father are artists in the Bay Area and taught at the Art Institute, and that’s how I met Ruby. So, those two things changed my life forever.

Sasha Bogojev: Do you feel like the artwork started happening because of the friendships or were the friendships based on the artwork that you were making?

Alicia McCarthy: I mean, we were just young and excited to paint, Ruby and I. She certainly wasn’t my only friend. I went to school with Xylor Jane, who’s a really amazing painter, and you were in an environment where that’s what everybody’s doing. But Ruby and I painted on each other’s things. We went out. We were kind of brats sometimes. We were troublemakers a little bit. Not really troublemakers, but pushing the rules or, just out of excitement, breaking rules without knowing it. So, sometimes innocently, and sometimes not.

Alicia McCarthy: And this was happening around the clock. I mean, back in those days, it was drug and alcohol-free. It sure didn’t help that the job I had was working in a produce department, so I had to be there at 6 a.m. It was rare that I slept six hours a night, and it burst out of sheer excitement and just being immersed in a lot of different communities—it was music, it was political, it was school or painting, it was painting on the street. It was all of it, having a job, and being with other creative people.

The Sense of Camaraderie and Value

Sasha Bogojev: It feels like you carry a lot of those elements to this day. There’s such a strong sense of camaraderie around your show. Do you feel this is imperative in what you do, or should do, or is there just no other option?

Alicia McCarthy: Yeah, it’s always been that way. So, for me, I think it’s my version of the solo show. It’s like a self-portrait of me because I would rather go along with other people. And also, it’s a little bit of addressing value. I happen to have a lot of opportunities, and I know an enormous amount of equally, if not more, talented and hardworking people, but I also understand how value works.

Alicia McCarthy: I mean, even when I first went to college and took a Super 8 film class, we had to do a self-portrait. It happened to be winter, and I went with my friends up to the snow, and we had these big inner tubes, and the self-portrait was handing the camera to each of my friends. I have my insecurities, but it’s not that I don’t have a sense of myself. It’s just my sense of myself has to do with all the people I surround myself with. All of those things are, to me, the content of my paintings as well. So, it’s just what I prefer and how I see myself in a lot of ways.

An Evolution Towards Abstraction

Sasha Bogojev: Now that you mentioned your self-portraits, I wonder if you were doing something different than these, let’s say, abstract compositions?

Alicia McCarthy: Yeah, I worked figuratively for a while until the early or mid-’90s. I went abstract because I felt like I never worked narratively, even though there would be recognizable images and people or figures. I wanted to see if I could get the same emotional quality without it, and again, it would feel a little bit more universal.

Sasha Bogojev: Do you feel like you succeeded at achieving that similar atmosphere?

Alicia McCarthy: I don’t know. Do you? I just don’t know [laughs]. I mean, I know how I feel painting. I’m most interested in making the work. Once the painting’s done, I’m done. I actually don’t even want to look at it, to be honest.