Interview with Marjorie Nodelman, 1979
By Sheldon Nodelman
S: Who are you?
M: My name is Marjorie. I've been compared to a raisin cookie.
S: How did you get into art?
M: It was a whim. I really wanted to go to medical school. Since I Spent my teen
years taking drugs, I couldn't qualify. I still practice a little medicine on the side.
S: Why did you choose a circular format?
M: I think right angles are square -- they box things in.
S: Doesn't it have something to do with the process of vision?
M: I think so -- the visual field is roughly spherical isn't it? And it has no planar screen.
The right angle implies a plane and a screen. I don't want that screen between me
and what I paint.
S: Have you ever read Freud?
M: Yes. I remember how his patients were able to free-associate easily when he laid
them down on a couch. Being released from gravitational pressure and the
vertical axis gave them access to their own visions.
S: Why do you make your pictures project so strongly from the wall?
M: They're round or irregular shapes. They need stability, since they don't line up with the
floor. Their physical depth corresponds to the depth axis of vision. It's a kind of alternative
S: Why do you paint so large? It seems to offend a lot of people.
M: The reason is things have to be bigger than me if I'm to find them credible. The
right scale helps me to compose. I don't think I could do it in miniature. I
love to wrestle those big figures into place. I don't deny the chutzpah.
S: Some people have sought for a feminist content in your work. Does the
tondo format relate to this?
M: Not deliberately. I've always been averse to political propaganda still, they
S: How can you do figural painting? It's supposed to be obsolete. Do you
really believe in representation?
M: I don't see any difference between figural and abstract art. In principle, that is.
The fact is that I like company in my studio. I paint the people I would like to
look at -- real or imagined ones. They are my friends.
S: You do a lot of portraits, especially self-portraits. Why do you paint yourself so
M: I love the way I look. I wish everybody and everything looked like me.
S: But you paint other people as well. Myself, for example.
M: I like peculiarity. You look awfully funny. So do alot of your colleagues. I like to paint
them too, and people I see on the street. The way they look gives point to my
S: Do you consider yourself a portraitist?
M: No - - do you? It's true my images look like particular people, but not on their account;
it's for me.
S: There's been a lot of talk over the last few years about series. Do you think the Military-
Industrial Complex belongs in this category?
M: No. Most series are sets of formal permutations. I don't deny hat mine are formally
integrated -- but the effect is intended to be simultaneous, not sequential. Not
sequence but consequence. I want to make a simultaneous narrative out of
spontaneously proliferating parts.
S: What do you have to say about the military subject matter?
M: I was brought up as a Quaker. We were not supposed to admit to aggressive
instincts. This was hard to do, as I have lots of them myself.
S: Didn't moving to San Diego influence your choice of subject matter?
M: Yes. This town is an armed camp. Throughout most of America you don’t see
what we as a nation are doing. Here it's very overt. Not only the military themselves,
but the whole infrastructure of defense industry and services that California lives off of.
S: Is your content satirical?
M: Yes and no. I don't think of it that way unless I am asked. I really like the drama and
dynamism of the events I paint. But I know too much to respond to them altogether
naively. So there's a kind of black humor. Mostly, though, I just enjoy the violence.
S: Why are your pictures so crowded?
M: I've never understood about less being more. It seems to me that more is
S: Your pictures have a very direct impact on the viewer. Don't you feel that
has been missing in much of the art of the last ten years?
M: Yes. A lot of current work seems bloodless. There is no face-down between the artist
and the viewer. Just two absent partners in an intellectualized limbo.
Content ought to carry total conviction. Extremism is no vice.
S: You speak of content. Do you mean literal representational content?
M: I'm not an illustrator. I think of content as the effect of my images, not as their
S: Do you spend a lot of effort documenting your material?
M: I don't expect my public to be specialists. For them there's always Keith Ferris.
S: What sources do you use for your hardware?
M: Not Artforum. I read trade magazines -- Aviation Week, Armed Forces Journal.
My favorite is International Defense Review.
S: You've been accused of endorsing militarism. Are you a right-winger?
M: Call me a soldier of fortune.
S: In the Merchant of Death, I'm shown peddling small arms to a gang of girl guerillas.
M: Its my memory of old James Bond movies -- I loved Pussy Galore.
S: What about your treatment of corporate themes, the Pentagon, aero-space
execs and so on?
M: It's a kind of pornography, don't you think? I've always liked men with grey hair.
S: Some people describe your compositions as cartoon-like.
M: They're right. It's a combination of Captain Marvel and Caravaggio.
S: Are you a Pop painter then?
M: No. I don't try to squeeze ironies out of discarded representational systems.
Maybe the first Punk painter.
S: After all this, how do you expect viewers to react?
M: I hope they'll be appalled.
S: And seduced?
M: Sure. Isn't war collective lust, as lust is private war?