Ora Margolis and the language of dreams
Interview by Katarina Mladenovicova
“Almost anything I draw is because I saw it in my head already. I think drawing is necessary for me because I think honestly if I could choose I probably wouldn’t be doing art. But then to be honest when I stopped for a while, something was missing. I think it keeps me from going insane. “
Let’s start by having you introduce yourself.
I’m Ora Margolis from New York City, born and raised. I’m 23 years old. I’ve been living in Japan for two years and in Tokyo for one year. I had wanted to live in Japan since I was 12. When I was in elementary school, as a project they made us write a letter to ourselves about what we want to be doing in ten years. Then they’re supposed to give you back the letter in ten years. They did not give me back the letter but my mom took a picture of it when I wrote it and I said “I want to be in Japan and I want to be making comics”. And then exactly ten years later at 22, I did actually move to Japan and I did make comics. That’s what I think is kind of weird, 12 year old me would be very proud.
I don’t know. I think it’s the little things. I think I was really into Japanese street style, I used to read Fruits Magazine, and I also really liked Sailor Moon because she was really cute but also, you know, fighting these villains and well I liked that. Also, I just had Japanese friends growing up and I started reading Japanese literature from a very young age. My grandma collects weird esoteric books like old volumes of books and she had this book called the Genji Monogatari, a classic in Japan. And so I just started reading that before bed when I was in middle school. I guess it was all coincidences, and then I went to Japan for the first time, that’s when I noticed that time just moves in a different way here. It just seems like you can take your time to do things. I know people say Tokyo is really busy, but if you go to the right corners of Tokyo, like outside Shibuya Scramble, just like around here (Sangejaya) it’s perfect. I just feel like the best version of myself here. For example, just walking around in the morning, looking at stray cats, you know drinking my coffee. Then, I feel like there are so many secrets that you have to find here and I’m just always looking for them. In New York. I just felt like I found all the secrets which probably wasn’t true.
Yeah, Tokyo is an amazing place for me. Tokyo me is probably one of the better versions of me.
What about drawing? When did you start creating?
Oh since like right off the bat. My mother is an artist, so I guess that just sort of surrounded me and, it’s always been the way that I communicate with myself.
How did having an artistic parent influence your own creations and relationship with art? Were you inspired by your mom?
I don’t know, our art is very different. I will say that I’m endlessly grateful for enforcing that I know my art history. I remember on Saturdays there was a schedule, I knew exactly what I would be doing. Because I’m Jewish, we would go together to the Temple, then eat some food, go to Central Park and then to the MET museum. She would then just drill me the painting she’s like: “What era do you think this is from? Why do you think this is from this? What artistic movement is this? What artist did this?”. So I’m really lucky and at the time I didn’t complain and actually liked it.
So your art is very different from your mom’s. First, how would you qualify your art and then would you say that your style came naturally or was it a process?
I think that my style is just trying to communicate the world that I see in dreams or daydreams. It’s just not really hard for me to figure out what to draw or what to write because I just see it. So in order to get it out of my head, I have to draw it and once I draw it, it’s out of my head and I feel more peaceful. I never have to think like “oh, what am I going to draw today?”. Almost anything I draw is because I saw it in my head already. I think drawing is necessary for me because I think honestly if I could choose I probably wouldn’t be doing art. But then to be honest when I stopped for a while, something was missing. I think it keeps me from going insane.
How important are those dreams for you in your life and your creations ?
I think a lot of it ties into the fact that I have a chronic sleep disorder that started three years ago. And you know, I would just stay up for two days straight all the time. I would only get two or three hours of sleep. I actually don’t remember a lot of fragments of my life very well because of that sleeping problem. I think that once I started drawing the anxieties or like symbolism representing the anxieties, my sleeping got better. But also when I was awake, I just felt better in general.I can’t find the reason why I can’t sleep, but I think without art it would be a lot worse.
Now, the characters that you draw look like you, including the comic book’s character. Is that intentional?
That’s like not intentional. It’s totally subconscious. For one of the pieces, I studied myself in the mirror and I tried to draw myself, but for the other things, it’s no. I think that they’re not me but then people are like: “oh that’s you isn’t it?”. The comic book is not supposed to be me either.
So about the comic book or even before that, What were your major and favourite projects or things that you think made you grow as an artist?
I think that A Ghost Walks in Tokyo is a work that represents what I’m trying to communicate, which is making people feel less alone. But also make them enter a world like in between worlds. I know it’s impossible to share your mind with somebody but it would be nice if I could. When I see other people’s art, I feel like I entered their world and that they will too with my art, and that’s what’s beautiful. Everyone has their own worlds and I feel so lucky when I get to enter other people’s worlds and hopefully like by doing my art someone can enter my world. So it’s like an exchange. I definitely by no means think I’m the only one with my own view, but that’s why art is great. Like that’s one of the purest ways to enter someone’s subconscious.
I’m also proud of this show I had recently in Nakameguro, at Breakfast Club. I’m proud of that too because it was in a bathroom and so the theme that I was going for was using a bathroom as a liminal space. So just like a space in between the outside world and a private world where you kind of like go to collect your bearings and, especially women or like female identifying people, they use the bathroom for community. When you’re at a party and you go with your friends together and you kind of give like the rundown of what just happened or like you support each other. Just you know women helping each other dye their hair like that’s something that is like a rite of passage in high school or college. Just in general the bathroom is a place where you have to confront yourself. So the space was a bathroom, and I thought instead of trying to hide the fact that your work is in a bathroom just make it about bathrooms.
But honestly, you know what I’m most proud of? My Sketchbook. Because that’s me, just like very spontaneous. Just trying to get it out there and that’s what I’m most proud of.
Now, you work as an illustrator professionally. How does that influence your personal creations? Do you find it gets in the way of them? How do you find a balance?
I’d say being an illustrator is finding someone else’s problem and learning how to solve it and drawing for yourself is trying to find out what your own problem is and unravelling it. But I’m very lucky to work as an illustrator while in school, really grateful.
And what would be your perfect environment for creation?
I guess if you’re asking like what are my weird habits? I listen to really aggressive trap music when I’m inking, but when I’m actually sketching I don’t listen to anything. I need complete silence, but when I’m in my inking zone, like a multi-page manga, I’m like “all right I need trap”. I need something to usually get me going and focus, but I also take breaks to dance because sometimes the song just like hits.
So your mom played a big role in your art education. But what are some other Inspirations you had personally but also as a creator?
Edward Hopper is one of my favourite Western artists. Then, I think just watching people on the street and wandering at night. See I walk a lot at night. Walking at weird times around my neighbourhood, I think that’s what inspires me a lot is the stillness. When I see the other people out there I’m like “what are you doing? “. Also, zines, like zine culture is really influential on my work because a lot of it, although it’s a comic I intended it to be more like a zine. I want people to get by my work in exchange for something weird. For example, I paid for one of my therapist appointments with my comic. If people want to offer me like odd objects and exchange for my art, that’d be great. And I 100% want to just keep making zines. like you want to read them right then and there. You know, sometimes you buy a book and you’re like this for another time, but a zine it’s “okay, let’s crack it open”.
What would be a dream project for you?
I really want to make a funhouse infused with my art. I want to make a tactile journey exhibition, so it would smell a certain way like maybe they’ll be like a certain kind of snack. I want an art exhibition that stimulates all the senses. That’s definitely a goal. If someone has a spare room and they would let me just go crazy that could be really fun.
You told me that you feel like through other people’s art you feel like entering their mind. Do you feel the need to be around people that create to create yourself? Or does entering these other minds through art make it easier for you to share your own mind.
That’s such a good question because yesterday I had a conversation with somebody and I was viewing their art with them and I literally felt for the first time as if I entered his mind and it was crazy. It was probably one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time and I think just in Tokyo, I don’t know if it’s luck or if it’s meant to be but I really have met people that just have such a beautiful creative vision and that’s very different from mine. But I just love people who have a vision and they commit to it and it might make them eccentric but I respect that a lot. I meet people who inspire me all the time. I’d say my biggest inspirations are some of my friends
So you moved from New York to Tokyo. How is that different? Obviously, Tokyo takes a big place in your art, do you feel like if you stayed in NY it would have been different?
Yes, definitely. Completely. In New York, artists are on a pedestal, whereas in Tokyo, although Japan may be in some people’s minds a stricter or more conservative society, people that are into art are just ready to grab anything and go with it. They see that you want to do something and someone will just come up to you and be like “I have this that you can use”. I find it to be incredibly supportive, but also like I feel like a lot of different types of art are respected that don’t get that respect in New York. In New York, if you want to be respected as an artist, go to some fancy Art School, make art that is like a steel brick and then just say that steel brick represents something. Which is fine, because I enjoy that kind of art too but in Japan, I feel like you can be more whimsical and be taken seriously. You can be girly and be taken seriously. Feminine art is taken more seriously in Japan. I’m not saying the feminist movement is not taken seriously in New York, but I just feel like in Japan you can just draw like a girl who’s cute and sipping a milkshake and people will like that. People who do art in Japan don’t need this sense of over-validation that you might need in New York.
To keep it simple, I would say that all types of artists are more respected in Tokyo and in New York, it’s just a certain kind of artist. And I believe that self-taught artists are important and valuable too.
“I would just say that my art is the language of Dreams transformed into a visual symbol.”