Margaret Kilgallen, also known by the moniker ‘Matokie Slaughter,’ devoured old-time sources with an insatiable ear and respectful eye: Appalachian music, hand-painted signage, letterpress printing, hobo train writing and all hosts of religious and decorative arts. With an elegant hand, she meticulously copied letterforms and numbers in long forgotten scripts, revisiting the now forgotten pace of craftsmanship and the personal tales buried beneath official history.
Kilgallen’s unique re-sourcing of sweetly familiar and non-hierarchical everyday places, markings and people found throughout California was in large part inspired by the wandering culture of immigrants, railway workers and dreamers. She was especially interested in evidence of a maker’s hand–in seeing traces of the maker in her work.
I like things that are handmade and I like to see people’s hand in the world, anywhere in the world; it doesn’t matter to me where it is. And in my own work, I do everything by hand. I don’t project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always be imperfect because it’s human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting, that even if I’m doing really big letters and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I’ll never be able to make it straight. From a distance it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. I think that’s where the beauty is.
Painting directly on the wall, Kilgallen created room-size murals that recall a time when personal craft and handmade signs were the dominant aesthetic. Strong, independent women – walking, surfing, fighting, and biking – prominently flood all of her compositions. Her work has at once a cartoon-like innocence and slight, ironic tang that has become known known for its DIY strain of art that incorporates images from everyday life into a stylized mosaic of lines, colors, forms, and faces. Her art, like those of her contemporaries, celebrates life. She was interested in letter forms; things taken directly from manuscripts from the medieval period, when there weren’t any fancy illuminations. However she quickly moved on to 19th century poster-type forms, sign writing, and vernacular typography – unschooled; by necessity. It was a pastiche for a different period for her.
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