a fork in a vase of water twists and coils against a floral backdrop

“Imitatio Ludum” (2020), oil on panel, 10 x 8 inches. All images courtesy of the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles/New York, shared with permission

Marisa Adesman unsettles domestic stability by twisting common sights into the surreal. From her studio in St. Louis, the artist infuses still lifes evocative of the Dutch Golden Age with a strange animism: forks coil around lit taper candles, an upside-down terracotta pot appears to levitate, and an illustrated kitchen tile seamlessly morphs into the feathered flesh of a duck. The luminous oil paintings use food and dining to explore issues of gender, culture, and politics, including the invisible labor women historically have undertaken.

A seemingly simple tool, the fork becomes a loaded metaphor in Adesman’s works. The sleek metal cutlery is buoyant and feisty as it shape-shifts and writhes, transforming a static instrument into a lively actor. “As a symbol of both nurturance and control, the fork’s pliability questions the hierarchies of value that we’ve placed on the ideas of ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized,’ ‘domestic’ and ‘wild’…By using various cutlery to feed ourselves, we dine rather than eat, believing we are somehow more refined, more civilized than other species,” she shares.

Whereas the fork paintings imply a human presence, Adesman’s newer works translate the body into phantasmic forms. “By a Thread,” for example, witnesses shiny, translucent fingers grasping at a pulley rope, while lace-gloved hands in “Out From Under” emerge from the floorboards alongside a bouquet.

“I aim to create tension between contrasting sensations: sensual yet horrifying, nourishing yet violent, familiar yet surreal, alluring yet deceptive,” the artist adds. “These dichotomies serve as a metaphor for the paradoxes of human life and especially the feminine experience.” Enchanted by a mysterious force, the paintings call attention to the immense labor of maintaining domestic life that, to those who have traditionally benefitted from it, may have seemed like magic all along.

Explore more of Adesman’s paintings on her site and Instagram.


a gold fork spilts into two pronged heads that entwine against a backdrop of tile with a hanging duck

“Midnight Snack” (2021), oil on canvas, 20 x 14 inches

a white cloth covers a seemingly animated form atop a wooden table with two dining chairs

“All’s Fair…” (2021), oil on canvas, 18 x 25.25 inches

a lit candle coils into a circle with a fork wrapped around the form

“Chasing Tail” (2022), oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches

a silver fork bends and twists along a crystal cobweb

“All the Trappings” (2020), oil on panel, 10 x 8 inches

a lit candle inches toward a bouquet like worm. flowers poke through a canvas on the right

“By a Thread” (2023), oil on canvas, 24 x 22 inches

a cushioned red seat of a wooden chair tips downward to a hole in the floor where hands reach up with flowers. a sheet and an upside down plant in a terracotta pot float above

“Out From Under” (2023), oil on canvas, 62 x 42 inches

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