Upon first encountering Alisa Margolis’ paintings online I was unsure whether I was looking at paint. The American artist’s work ranges from technically rendered explosions and carefully constructed rubble to the Baroque meets deep space and the Athenians at a rock concert.
“There’s something primal about painting, the materiality, the color- it produces endorphins,” I caught up with Margolis outside the Spati in Mitte, her home for the last ten years. When asked to explain her own work she shrugs, ever the nonchalant New Yorker, “It’s between technical formalism and ‘let it fly’”.
Throughout Margolis’ career, beginning in New York at Columbia University for her BA, then attending de Ateliers in Amsterdam and finally settling in Berlin, she has created spaces for art traditions, ranging from the Baroque to Dutch 17th century flower painting to american pop culture, to interact. Typically beginning in a dark space, layers of oil and resin produce milky color plumes; a wonder of technical skill and a clear joy in the process of painting. Flowers, abstract designs and body parts dissolve and perforate- the lights go up onstage and Axl Rose melts.
Margolis most recently exhibited in a group show at Galerie Judin in Berlin, which she also organized. This exhibition was an opportunity for Margolis to add classical figures to her abstract landscapes. The saturated, colorful spaces were rendered in pastel sunset hues rather than her usual dark cosmic fields and the figures, spilling, twisting, and appearing in smoke and in satin, belonged to antiquity. Easily recognized as figures between gods and men, Margolis’ formalism and “gooey feel” technique is on dactylic display. Her abstract expressionist foundation entangles the measured lines of the classical figures, the ancient icons, their roman brows and laurel wreaths severed from chiseled abs hidden in a bubbling pink enamel veil.