Halloween Special: Margot Ferrick

Text by Joe McMurray

Artists depend on ambiguity, often to the degree that any work that is too obvious is almost unanimously considered worthless. With this in mind, the formal value of words, or ‘text,’  for contemporary artists is evident, since text can exist in the visual field without offering any explicit reason for being there. It is up to the viewer to pour meaning into words and their place in visual art and then to expand from there. 

For Margot Ferrick words are essential, but more for their immediacy than for adding a layer of mystery. They use text to connect their work and make it legible, offering deeper insight into their larger vision. This is especially true in the pieces without text, since we can transpose Ferrick’s more explicitly-defined meaning onto their less obvious work. (Incidentally, their gesture of openness is commendable for its refusal to remain aloof, since it is always easy to appear interesting when you don’t say anything).

But what is Ferrick saying? Mercifully, they are concise and direct, though Ferrick does not disavow a pleasant sense of mystery and absurdity. In ‘My Dream,’  a poem with pictures or a drawing with words, Ferrick just wants a committed boyfriend, which explains the title and connects with the audience by exposing a vulnerability which Ferrick knows viewers will readily understand. In a similar piece, Songy, one of Ferrick’s cuddly, chimeric characters, is lost in the supermarket. The situation is relatable but with text Ferrick expands the common ground to include the less pedestrian experience of the dread of consumerism, by which we are dissected for our unique quirks and made anonymous by our status as consumers. Love and the hell of late-capitalism described with clarity and personality. I think Ferrick gets me.

Admittedly, I can’t say that I entirely get them, though, and for that, I am relieved. In their exclusively visual work I can sometimes imagine what the text might be, like those competitions in the back of The New Yorker, but just as often I can’t: their work is only superficially cartoonish. What I can say is that I like what I see. I like it for its style and for its peculiarity and for its formal referents; there is a Heavy Metal, Never Ending Story thing going on. Ferrick draws really well. Their colors are spare and drab and are therefore effective for their thoughtful idiosyncrasy. Cool shapes. Strange objects. Weird characters. Good stuff – all strengthened by the voice established by Ferrick’s thoughtful use of text.

It is nice when people say what they mean and when it feels like a description of our own experience. It makes the world feel less lonely and uptight. Ferrick understands the loneliness. You can see it in their work. But they also get that the best way to handle it is to talk about it.

Is your work intended to induce fear or discomfort?

Sometimes! I feel like that’s a skill I haven’t totally mastered. I’d like to be able to do it without seeming obvious.

What are you most afraid of?

I don’t know how to articulate it, but I always have this fear of trying to do something or go somewhere thinking it’ll be fun or innocent and then finding out that that thing is actually really terrible. Maybe being trapped and caught off guard? I don’t have children but sometimes I have these daymares about buying something for my theoretical child that hurts or kills them, like a faulty crib.

Who or what inspired Songy?

Songy is like parts of me, just exaggerated and altered.

What possesses you to create?

It sounds trite but I think I’m really just working out stuff that disturbs me or causes me grief.

What does the swan symbolize to you?

I’m not totally sure! I started drawing swans in college because I was obsessed with Swan Lake but the current swans feel detached from that. Those swans weren’t human, they were mostly severed heads and necks.

Given the choice, would you become immortal?

I think about it sometimes…I’m definitely afraid to stop existing but it seems like it could be a real slog to live forever. I’m not sure what the point would be. If I was immortal and able to live in space it might be something.

If you were a monster what kind of monster would you be?

My instinct was to say “giant spider,” but that actually doesn’t sound that fun. If dragons count as monsters I’d probably want to be one of them. Just something that flies.

What are your favourite scary films? 

I love Robert Eggers’ The Witch! I also really like Creep and this movie called Unfriended, which takes place totally on a laptop screen. Both of these are really surprising and good. I also have a soft spot for mediocre, or bad found footage horror, something about that set up is always really fun to me. There’s a space horror movie called Apollo 18…it looks nice and has a pretty effective atmosphere (cramped, sort of blurry video) but the story isn’t very good.