Boris Margo


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Painter, printmaker, and sculptor. Associated with a theatrical form of surrealism during the 1930s, he later contributed to abstract expressionism. Born in Volochisk, Russia (now Ukraine), he studied art in Odessa, Moscow, and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). He lived in Montreal for a little more than a year before arriving in New York in 1930 and subsequently becoming a United States citizen. Exemplifying his 1930s taste for fantasy, Performance (Hirshhorn Museum, 1934) suggests a magician on stage, conjuring horrible apparitions below curtainlike forms. In this creepy mélange of biomorphic elements in unpleasant colors, everything appears to be in flux, decaying or emerging. In the mid-1930s Margo invented a process known as decalcomania (transferring wet paint directly from one surface laid upon another, in order to take advantage of chance effects), which was soon taken up by other surrealist-oriented artists, most notably Max Ernst. By 1940, Margo's images often verged on abstraction, with partially transparent organic forms floating through indeterminate and shifting spaces. His interests in painterly effects determined by chance and in the canvas as a painterly arena for metamorphic effects undoubtedly interested Arshile Gorky. In addition to working together on a federal art project, in the late 1930s they shared a studio, as did Margo and Mark Rothko in 1943–44, when both were working in a similar vein of semi-abstraction. An active and experimental printmaker, Margo developed a technique known as cellocut (made by dissolving celluloid with acetone), a forerunner of the collograph process. In The Sea (1949), a color cellocut on wood support, the wood grain suggests clouds in a sky as a crescent moon floats above abstract organisms seeming to rise from the waters. In the 1950s and 1960s, he also produced reliefs and sculptural assemblages. A stroke in 1968 curtailed his productivity. A longtime summer visitor to Provincetown on Cape Cod, he died at a hospital in Hyannis, not far away.

Subjects: Art.

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