The frame inspires the painting in magical mind of Margot Datz


She is an artist of incandescent talent, and a woman of the same caliber of charm. Margot Datz and I are roughly the same age, we have similar hair, reddish, long, and curly — hers is longer, mine curlier — and the first time we met, at the back of my now departed Sun Porch Books in Oak Bluffs, we talked excitedly for half an hour about, oh, let’s see, Neolithic goddess cultures, our favorite flavors of ice cream — framboise for her and butter crunch for me — and the odd bends in the road that we knew as our quirky spiritual paths. Margo checked her watch and said, “We’ve completely downloaded each other, and we’ve only just begun!”

That was some 12 years ago, so it was with considerable interest that I took on an assignment to preview her upcoming show, happening Saturday, August 3, from 4 to 8 pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury: “Enchantments, New Fantasy Paintings in Antique Frames.” A week ahead of this single-day event, I sat on her sublime front porch down an Edgartown road, more creatively decorated than any rococo parlor of the Gilded Age, with canary-yellow iron furniture, bright carpets, and floral fabrics beside a mosquito-net daybed upon which she sleeps each night of the summer, even the nights of lightning such as we recently experienced, and at last we discussed the presentation for which she was still feverishly painting.

But here’s the joy of interviewing the Divine Ms. M: We roamed conversationally so far and wide of any one subject that we had to keep reminding ourselves to get down to the brass tacks of Enchantments.

But first, here are some of the delightful detours: The artist mentioned that astrologically her sun sign is Cancer, rising is Scorpio and her moon is in Virgo. “I feel as if inside me are three women involved in constant argument, locked in a car on a cross-country trip.”

“What’s great about getting older is finding what I can pass on that’s enlivening, inspiring, and funny.”

“I love the myth of the 100th monkey, where one monkey develops a new habit, all its kin and clan adopt it, and after a while, it spreads over the waters to all other monkeys.”

Margot mentions in passing that she’d like to reread “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse. She recommends a book about psychically draining humans — essentially vampires without the canines — the book titled “Unholy Hungers,” then she opines that we all have a default emotion from our childhood, pauses to say she was dismayed by Robert Mueller’s recent testimony, recommends another book, “The Stand” by Stephen King; she has a special fondness for the doubting St. Thomas, but when I ask if Thomas is her favorite saint, she replies, no, not truly because her favorite mythology is Hindu.

If this makes the Divine Ms. M sound as if all the chattering were hers, we both contributed to the pile of fun data. In fact, while I busily scribbled down everything she said in my reporter’s notebook, she early on decided she needed to take notes as well. 

But then to work! We ambled over to a long picnic table on the porch, covered across every square inch with the artist’s new collection of old frames. Her favorite design, Black Forest, is from the “land of cuckoo clocks.” Think of an especially dark burnished wood, deeply carved, reminding one of Grimm’s fairy tales. “It’s like when you’re walking in the woods and you catch a glimpse of something, and then it’s not there, but you know it was there,” she says.

Another brand of antique frame that has fallen within Margot’s purview is called Hungarian, of a lighter, although still dark wood, with more delicate tracery. The artist hunts for her frames on eBay, excitedly taking the plunge on each specimen that calls to her. “I’ve spent a fortune on these things!” she says with an exhausted laugh.

Once the next frame arrives, she gets down to the task of envisioning the painting that will emerge within its four narrow escarpments: “It takes longer than I would have thought.”

The subjects have proven to be mostly animal, and not domestic, asleep-by-the-hearth animals. In keeping with the mystical walk through the wood, where untold chimera are briefly glimpsed, she has set down such unusual small beasts as a pygmy weasel and a winter white ermine. All of them wear exquisite jewels, such as an owl with fierce pale olive green eyes and a huge diamond clip around its wide neck. 

A big part of Margot Datz’s prep for all her exhibits is the writing she does to elucidate each visual piece. For instance, for a fetching subject she has entitled “Squirrely,” her jottings include: “In defiance of their battle for survival, they seem to squeeze in a lot of fun. Their acrobatics compete with Cirque du Soleil. Their lusty spring courtship resembles some racy tango, as they tangle together in the bracken one moment, then leap from branch to branch in hot pursuit the next.”

As we stand on her fairytale porch, she reveals, “My love of painting animals is a way of getting close to archetypes of human issues. It’s a way of grappling with uncomfortable issues in comfortable ways.”

And uncomfortable or not, her art is, as ever, drop-dead gorgeous, and now, with the paintings paired with arrestingly sacerdotal frames, the work provides a new look into the dangerous walk-in-the-woods fable of when Grimm’s meets the incomparable Ms. Datz.