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Touch Wood

Acting on instinct, artist Margot Frankel establishes a second career that’s firmly rooted in nature.

Margot Frankel credits her Chihuahua, Zip Code, with her artistic awakening four years ago. “I was out walking my dog and I started noticing all of this bark on the ground,” says the Cheviot Hills-based artist. “The range of colors and textures just amazed me.” Frankel felt a curious compulsion to act on the attraction. “One day I was like, OK, I’m going to put bark up on the bathroom wall—there was wallpaper with a nature theme there already, the scale seemed doable, and if needed, it could be removed fairly easily.” That organic installation—nearly three weeks of off-and-on gluing and layering sycamore, pine, eucalyptus, palm and corymbia tree bark—led to others, and then commissions through word of mouth.

Trees have always factored into Frankel’s career, albeit in less raw form: She started out in publishing, becoming art director for Departures and Town & Country and later, creative director for C, before becoming a full-time artist. Habits from her first calling manifest themselves in her home studio, where she lives with her husband, Netflix lawyer Joel Goldberg, and their 17-year-old daughter, Julia. A mood board pays homage to heroes like Georgia O’Keeffe and Amedeo Modigliani, and twigs are meticulously categorized by length alongside metal votives holding eucalyptus and southern magnolia seeds.

Recently she has taken to photographing her muse up close, yielding painterly images that, in their mesmerizingly detailed patterns, conjure everything from impressionistic seascapes to interstellar footage from NASA. The works caught the attention of the higher-ups at Snapchat, who acquired six, as well as a mixed-media piece on loan for their Venice office. Frankel’s collectors now hail from as far away as Finland, and her work will appear on the big screen in December, in Collateral Beauty, directed by her brother David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada).

Given the symbolism of her chosen medium and its environmental applications—notably California’s drought and its dire effect on forestation—what began as a more personal investigation has since taken on more meaning: “I’m trying to bring us back in touch with all of the things that are right in front of our faces,” she says. MELISSA GOLDSTEIN

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