Doug Simay 3/2014
I first saw Marjorie Nodelman’s paintings at Newspace Gallery when Joni Gordon (the director) opened her first LA city gallery on Melrose just west of Western (around the corner was Jean Milant’s first gallery, Cirrus). I looked up Newspace Gallery when I saw a reproduction of a Martha Alf drawing in a short lived LA art journal called, Visual Dialog. Alf was also a part of Joni’s stable and too was a San Diego based artist.
It was 1979 and I had recently started finding and visiting and buying from galleries in LA. Marjorie’s paintings at that time were large, stretched, shaped canvasses with themes revolving around warfare and battle. The figurative images were very Pop. She called the series “Military Industrial Complex.”
I learned that Marjorie was a San Diego artist working in downtown San Diego. I bought my first two big Nodelman paintings (“B-17” and “Brooklyn Bridge”) from Joni Gordon but viewed the paintings and met and developed a relationship with Marjorie while she was working in a basement studio on the southwest corner of 5th and G Streets downtown. Earlier that building had for a time been City Hall for San Diego and now, of course, it is in the center of the tourism driven Gaslamp Quarter.
The studio, having no natural light, was very large and high ceilinged illuminated by fluorescent and clip-on incandescent work lights. It was filled with large “action” paintings of which “B-17” is a prime example.
The studio was also frequently the party-zone for drunken beer parties with arts people establishing the “entertainment” concept called Punk. When she had to give up the studio the Punk scene migrated a couple blocks away to the Skeleton Club.
She and husband, Sheldon Nodelman (then a junior UCSD art department faculty member) rented the top two floors of a building mid-block on the west side of 5th between F and G Streets. They lived on the second floor and her studio was on the third floor. There were holes in the roof (you could see sky) and pigeons regularly flew about. On many of her paintings from that time you can still see stains of pigeon guano on the back.
It was at parties at this studio that I first met Italo Scanga and Ernest Silva – freshmen faculty in the Visual Arts at UCSD and fresh from Rhode Island. Italo used to always wear army camouflage pants and I always thought Ernie looked more like a biology prof than an artist.
Marjorie and Sheldon divorced but remained warm, good friends. She moved to a large studio/living loft at the southeast corner of Newport and Bacon in Ocean Beach. She was living with her boyfriend, John (who she later married). He became the male subject of many of her paintings from that period.
Marjorie was wacky and gregarious. She was everybody’s friend in San Diego’s art world. She had numerous shows in San Diego and her antics were as well known as her paintings. She and I were fast friends and referred to each other as “brother and sister”. She painted my portrait as a present.
She ultimately moved to Los Angeles County, divorced John, remarried, got a degree in social work, and as far as I know stopped painting.
Sheldon Nodelman, February, 2014
Shortly after receiving her Master of Arts degree in 1975, Marjorie moved across the continent to La Jolla, to accompany her second husband whom she had met not long before at Yale and who had accepted an appointment at the San Diego campus of the University of California. She plunged herself at once into San Diego’s nascent art scene, attracting attention and controversy through the impact of a fearless and endlessly enterprising personality no less than through the often confounding audacity of her work and by her vigorous espousal of artists’ causes against an as yet somnolent establishment. The visual and emotional shock of California was fundamental to the rapid crystallization of her mature pictorial style. She abandoned the traditional rectangular format in favor of a circular, “tondo” form and eventually more complex, broken-geometry shapes, later extending into multi-unit spatial distributions. She thickened the depth of her stretchers until her paintings became solid, pie-like slabs rather than apparently two-dimensional planes, creating an unstable but energizing relationship between the sculptural volume of the stretched canvas and the illusionist three dimensionality of the strongly modelled figures packed into a fractured space. Ultimately, these broke out into overtly three-dimensional works, sometimes at large scale, in which the boundary between painting and sculpture was effectively broken down. Adroitly integrating the slam-bang multi-axial composition of action comic books and the artifices of popular illustration with a strong armature of modernist geometrical abstraction, sly references to high art tradition, and a leavening of surreal fantasy and explosive, often perverse humor, these paintings soon attained an immediately recognizable and idiosyncratic power. Central to this transformation was the California experience, notably that of the road, with its dematerialization of space and solids into the violent interplay of a visual semiotics always overcharged with speed and danger. The heavily militarized San Diego environment engendered a similarly violent and suspenseful war series, its thrills undiminished by a broad admixture of sarcasm. Portraiture was one of her particular gifts, typically fusing startlingly exaggerated heroic conventions with an acute apprehension of the uniqueness of personal appearance and character. Throughout the later nineteen-seventies and eighties, Marjorie was a major presence in the San Diego art world. In addition to her frequent exhibitions, she was an important figure in a range of collective manifestations which brought notice to the art community at large and – increasingly in later years – committed herself to large-scale public art projects which, even if unrealized, significantly affected community consciousness. Her presence soon extended beyond the San Diego region to the greater art center of Los Angeles, where she was represented for years at the fashionable New Space Gallery. Her works are widely distributed in public and private collections in the San Diego region and throughout Southern California.
Ellen Irvine, January 29, 2014
I met Marjorie at Yale in 1974. She had completed one year of a two-year MFA program; I was beginning mine.
Lester Johnson was one of her advisors, and her work reflected that. She was painting repetitive images (like people--Lester did that) -- and drew a lot from art history, for example, Susanna and the Elders.
She did figure paintings, primarily using models around her. She may have had a TA at Yale.
She was creating a 'larger than life' persona -- in that high stress environment -- that persisted for two decades.
Marjorie's undergraduate work was at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts (I believe).
(After my graduation from Yale, I ended up going to California in 1977, where we met again. Her studio was in the old San Diego City Hall; I was allowed to have work and live space there, where I stayed w/my children until I found a home in La Jolla (where my children went to school). (It was Italo and Stephanie's 'shack' on Draper Avenue!).
In San Diego she had several studios -- the top floor of the old city hall, then the basement; from there, a brief period in Chula Vista (upholstery), then to Ocean Beach, then a space in LA.
Her work evolved from historical subjects (that art student’s encounter) to military -- airplanes, helicopters, pilots -- using friends around her as models -- and, likely influenced by the close proximity to the Naval and Marine bases in the area.
She said her initial intention as an art student was illustration. Her work reflected that for some years. She loved early and mid-19th century (American) book illustrations as well as the simplicity and beauty of Japanese and Chinese prints.
Her work became more abstract, and often decorative. She interspersed large works with still life vegetable paintings and figure works, including portrait commissions.
Her transition from 2-D abstract to 3-dimensional, initially through upholstery techniques, pushed the envelope by taking her vision to new challenges. She mastered the art and craft of upholstery through an intense apprenticeship (with men who did car and furniture upholstery). She created astounding, large pieces, of great beauty.
From upholstery, she moved to 3-D wood-based wall-mounted works with her artist/engineer husband. These would be the last major works she accomplished before a mid-life change to social work.
"The Obecians" by John Herschel, October, 2015
Marjorie and I moved to Ocean Beach in the fall of 1982. We found a place on the corner of Bacon and Newport, a block from the ocean, on the second floor of a rickety apartment house built in the 1920s. Below us were a drug store, a surf shop, and a dodgy laundromat that was often on fire. We also discovered that there were nine bars within a block of our intersection. And at closing time, arguments would be taken to the street, loud curses became whacks and punches, followed by desolate moans before the cops came.
But by studio-rat standards, the place was impeccable: 2000 square feet of mostly empty space for $350 a month. Yes, it was squalid and cold, and the bathroom was deep in the back, through a maze of the landlord's junk, but Marjorie loved the place immediately.
One advantage was the relatively long "throwing distance" (maybe 60 feet) between two of the walls. This meant she could examine a work in progress with a "long gaze," as if she were looking at a distant landscape. Later she put this to good use in the more panoramic scenes of her highway series.
This series, incidentally, took off around this time because Marjorie was learning to drive. She quickly realized that as you drive, the road is talking to you through hazard icons, speed limit signs, flashing signals, curve warnings, and dozens of other signs and messages. She was fascinated by this conversation between the highway and the driver. But more than that, I think she was responding as a driver embodied by the car, absorbed by the physical and syntactical landscape through which the car is moving. As a visual artist, she intuitively saw this dialog in terms of images. And she was soon chasing images on most of the two-lane highways between Palomar Mountain and the desert.
As I recall, these paintings fell into roughly four categories: landscapes and roadscapes, dramas within the world world of the car, the sexual adventures of trucks, and encounters with the Headlight Child "at the end of the open road".
The Headlight Child was recurring theme. Marjorie was fascinated by Duchamp's
poetic phrase, which she often painted as an eerie encounter between darkness and light at the edge of the world.
Of course, 1982-83 was also an El Niño year. Huge waves began crashing on the O.B. pier. Then the big rains came--dreadful, ominous walls of rain. One morning the ceiling puckered and burst, instantly filling three garbage cans with rainwater. We kept pouring water out the window and refilling the cans again and again. Eventually the rain became a drizzle. By late afternoon there was dim glow in the sky. It was like watching the sun setting through a periscope.
Tershia d’Elgin, October, 2015
Marjorie was more cake mix than menu. Her many facets – friend, artist, iconographer and iconoclast, temptress and ham – don’t work except together, in deep goo and at high temperatures. We don’t pick and choose from these pieces, and neither did she. Her palette, her passions and her imagery are indivisible. All pelt her, and us too, at once.
Her friendship was an enormous relief. Like receiving a long-delayed license to be who we already were.
Marjorie’s infatuations with subject matter, shapes and imagery were apt, odd, and critically relevant. Chatting about someone’s skin color, the shape of a lipstick tube, or the whole idea of “carburetors,” we’d fall into hysterics. Marjorie’d throw back her head, slap her knee with a brush of those animated fingers, and laugh and laugh. It didn’t matter if the topic was wicked bomb builders, Ambrose Bierce, or chicken carcasses; the repartee was unhinged.
In the 1970s, downtown San Diego’s high rises for Gen Xes were decades away. The design-driven art scene was yet to come. Gaslamp and the convention center hadn’t happened. Economically ravaged, downtown smelled of urine. It looked of porn parlors, X-rated theaters, resident hotels, ragged residents, and cheap rents. Marjorie’s huge studio in the basement of the old City Hall on G Street put her in San Diego’s economic underbelly. Against the studio’s brick walls, enormous partially painted tondos were her windows. She explained that donuts, bagels, and also bismarcks were her inspiration. Mention custard filling? We’d say, “ooo.” Her addiction to round canvases, mimicking orbital vision, plus the region’s Drs. Strangelove, were a perfect setup for paintings about the military-industrial complex featuring her then-husband Sheldon Nodelman, his university colleagues, her gallerist, et cetera. Anyway, she adored “olive-drab.”
Our friend Richard Armstrong, curator at the then La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, lent Marjorie a small electric mixer, to support her baking enterprises. Like me, like many of us, Marjorie had an eating disorder in her pocket. The loan might as well have been a case of hypodermics. I’m a bit fuzzy on proportions and flavors, but for sure her cake creations involved Betty Crocker and Jello together. Marjorie talked on and on about the frosting, a recipe that always required shortening. I was making a living as an unhappy cook in those days and wasn’t as beguiled by the frosting’s gesso-like qualities as I might’ve been. One intoxicating evening she and I jumped around the studio with long almonds hanging from our lips, like deranged she-bitches. Trying to quit the cake habit, Marjorie gave me “custody” of Richard’s hand-mixer. She was forever calling, middle of the night, feeling the urge and begging me to drive the mixer downtown. This was long before she had money to invest in her vast selection of Kitchen Aids, each in a bomb-shaped housing, clad in Fiestaware colors.
Then art maven and party person, Ellen Phelan launched her “Banquet Seminars,” art parties thrown around specific San Diego artists. Since I was knee deep in pots and pans anyway, Ellen enlisted me to help. Ellen and Marjorie decided her banquet should be in her studio. By then, I had somehow tapped into the San Diego Magazine staff, which attracted both writers and swoopful photographer John Durant to the scene. Amidst Marjorie’s sensational paintings, bare light bulbs, dripping candles, dripping food, and lots of red wine – we felt like a bold family of show-offs among whom Marjorie was the most fearless and talented . . . but in a way that inoculated each of us with broader horizons. To quote Stephen Phillips: “Marjorie's wonderful tondo paintings of her friends and colleagues were a vivid and accurate historical record of San Diego's downtown art scene. As important to us as Red Grooms, Alex Katz and Fairfield Porter's were to their circles.” There was nowhere better place to be.
When gentrification began downtown, Marjorie was the heart of the protest. She and her paintings demanded that San Diego and the U.S. take a close look at its engine, its culture and where it might be headed. Other artists rallied around her. Even the fairly big names at UCSD didn’t have her voice. They were cosseted by academia. Marjorie was raw and vulnerable, at the center of what might’ve been a storm . . . had so much money and opportunity not immediately blanketed downtown.
She loathed skinny-necked Pete Wilson, a product of Republican boosters, who kept being San Diego’s mayor year after year. In her plan to throw a pie at Pete Wilson’s head, she enlisted other artists, writers and even lawyers of her acquaintance (to defend her). The plan, which was really only venting, had a long trajectory with much discussion about what should be in the pie, whether it should have meringue, lattice, or a top crust. And then just as fates aligned, Wilson left for Washington.
The recession hit in 1981 and during coming months art commissions dried up. (Also a big El Nino year.) Living without money, trying to survive by her art was hard. Marjorie had time to paint my portrait, as a gift for my 30th birthday, in 1982. Having no money either, but knowing that she hoped for portrait commissions, I invited everyone I knew to the party. She and 400 others converged on my tiny Beverly Glen cottage in Los Angeles. Her work stole thunder, giving the evening and roadblocks purpose. I have spent every second since trying to grow into the Tershia my dear friend depicted in this portrait. I still stretch. Some loves reduce us. Marjorie, in memory and in work, makes me feel invincible and radiant, as I suspect she does for all those she loved.
No other woman of my acquaintance is as maternal as Marjorie. During her first Latin American marriage, she gave birth to a largish litter of torta-shaped rolls, made of fabric. By the time she and Sheldon married. These bread children had thinned (lost to disease and upheaval). There were but two survivors, “Bread” and “Cousin.” Her favorite, Bread, was porkier, with a nice slice of fat-edged felt prosciutto, and two fried eggs, over easy, hanging from his crumb. (Anatomically, the “crumb” is the white inside of a bread bursting through the brown “crust.”) I was partial to the neglected child, Cousin, who was leaner, with his hefty pat of yellow polyester butter dangling in flagrante. These boys were the subject of much discussion, comparisons made with other boys of our acquaintance, always with Marjorie’s summation, “Well, Tiny (which is what we called each other, and also called Sheldon), we are never going to fight over men.” And we never did.
Bread and Cousin matured and grew gray. As happens in large families, new babies appeared, like that troublesome spotted fellow, whose name I think was “Sheldacat.” And as Marjorie’s attentions shifted, Quaker Baby at last arrived on the scene. Roast retrieved her from Marjorie’s Quaker parents’ closet. I had a baby of my own by that time. I admit that I had “nothing left” to shower on puffy-cheeked Quaker at the time. Quaker was an addict. Being an impecunious Quaker, she sniffed lines of pennies to get high. She’d suck up eight or nine at a time, then roll onto her back to levitate . . . for as long as Roast’s arm could keep her aloft. Marjorie and Roast, moved to Ocean Beach where they lived on a street named Bacon, another source of hilarity.
I remained infatuated with the ochre-cast Cousin. Alas, a volatile man named Giraffe, who lived with Marjorie on Bacon after she and Roast split, had turned out Bread and Cousin. Quaker Baby took off with Roast. Having lived so long and so well, Quaker has grown uneasy. Our advancing years and Marjorie’s retreat lend uncertainty to Quaker’s future. Although I don’t know Quaker, not really, I have agreed to provide a haven. Roast has shown her my circumstances. Also made sure that I have plenty of pennies. Quaker Baby is very big on coinage. Who isn’t?
A third or fourth generation of children was The Bad Dog Series. They had faces like electrical meters, consistent with Marjorie’s deft ability to transpose appliances into family members. Each of the husbands, former and present, received a Bad Dog, which they richly deserved.
Sheldon Nodelman’s smart, dear wife Susan Smith agreed to host Marjorie’s fourth wedding to Bob Niedringhaus (whom we call “Bear”). Of this marriage, Marjorie announced over and over again, “I finally got it right.” All Marjorie’s fans, including Roast and his wife, Debbie Champagne, were there. In my mind’s eye, I’m trying to recreate Marjorie and Bear’s wedding cake. It was gray and black, a series of stacked tubes. Did she cook it inside of a tire? She and Bear’s wedding rings were diamond plate, non-skid surface.
Marjorie’s progeny from her final marriage is a vast array of bears – beyond my descriptive powers. The most esteemed is the ursine Ellis. Ellis is diminutive. But do not be fooled. Ellis pulls strings.
Marjorie grew up in a Quaker family, who had many teddy bears, collector’s items from Regal Steiff. Her father, philologist Dr. Wilson Frescoln, worked at J. B. Lippincott, reporting directly to V.P. Ellis Bacon. Bacon was a curmudgeon and teetotaler. He made fun of Wilson because Wilson drank Jameson. Visiting the Frescolns one evening, Ellis Bacon saw one of the Regal Steiff bears slumped next to Wilson’s glass of ice cubes. Bacon leaned over to ask, “Does thee like thy cocktail too?” When Sheldon made a birthday gift of “The Baby Brown Bear” to Marjorie, she named him “Ellis.” To keep Ellis company, she bought two or three more. They all had leather-bottomed paws, a leather snoot, and interesting brown eyes with clear yellow around them. Very lifelike. Their peculiarity was that their heads were turned 45 degrees, so that when hugged, their head rested on your chest.
Eventually another bear, “BBB” (short for Big Bad Bear) arrived on the scene. BBB was on all fours. His tongue hung out. He had a fierce countenance. Marjorie’s husband, Bob “Bear” Niedringhaus, had felt sorry for him and brought him home. A territorial dispute as to who was going to be the alpha male ensued. There were many incidents, fights and petty tricks, but the end came when Ellis got BBB under the miter box and threatened to decapitate him. Marjorie’s husband, Bear, intervened and had to separate the bears. Ellis maintained his title.
Ellis’s brothers and cousins are numerous and include a life-sized polar bear, her cub, and a family of three 7’ foot grizzlies. When I met these life-sized additions with their luxurious hides, they sat at the table with us. Marjorie served animal crackers. We drank water.
Scott Olesen, October, 2015
I would go down to her OB studio right there overlooking Newport and Bacon, a huge space, today that space would be worth millions and millions of dollars, who knows what it cost back then or how she got it, I would show up, she would be wearing her overalls and be covered from head to toe in paint, including her hair and her toenails, and I would head down to the beach and score some pot and return, she usually wouldn’t smoke because she said it made her paranoid but she would let me go on, and we would talk about me wanting to be a writer like the Beats and Jack Kerouac and hear me go on about Bob Dylan and I would listen to her carry on about art and the philosophy of art and she would show me her canvases, one bigger than the other (always, one bigger than the next), and all the ideas behind them and their different perspectives and crazy geometry and just the general beauty of it all and she would mix some paints for me and show me her craft and we would stop talking shop and start gossiping about women and men and lovers and ex-lovers and she would give me these knowing smiles when I would tell her some secret or another like she knew exactly where I was coming from, me still being fresh off the truck like a bowl of ripe cherries, and she was the big sister I never had and I am sitting here crying big Marjorie Nodelman tears on October 3, 2015 at 11:10 am just thinking about it and I am always going to cry these tears as long as I shall live cause she was a true spirit which lives on in me and in all of us and it’s the kind of spirit which cannot be denied no matter how many times it dies cause it doesn’t die it just moves on in different shapes and sizes and colors and attitudes just like her many paintings and her enormous, tolerant, expansive heart and that’s what I have to say about that cause it’s the truth and the truth shouldn’t be buried but must be shared and then let go and then brought back again and turned into a pearl and then finally sent out to sea where it will become a school of fish that will swim free again just like Marjorie is now, I feel her every time swimming between my toes when I’m down in the ocean taking in another magical OB sunset, she feels like
Elvie Olesen, October, 2015
I met Marjorie in 1979 at one of Ellen Phelan’s Banquet Seminars for a chosen artist. Marjorie was a short girl/woman with a mane of blond/bleached hair with dark piercing eyes and a pouty mouth. I had rather preconceived notions of what an intelligent woman looked like. Marjorie’s looks were a bit of a shock. She was very intelligent, smart and eloquent about her art. With her short shorts, décolletage and fanciful stories about the paintings, she exuded vulnerability as well as a “kick-ass method to her madness.” I was impressed and star struck.
At the time, we were both getting a divorce and struggling to get free of what we perceived as a male dominated chauvinist world. I began visiting her studio, where we laughed talked girl talk, and discussed her paintings and the politics of art. Shortly thereafter I commissioned my portrait. I did not sit for it; I am not even sure she took a photo. Little did I know what I would look like or how I would be depicted. The finished portrait stunned me. WAS this me?? The painting is a 3-foot round with a protruding frame of 7 inches. Marjorie showed my blond curly hair almost filling the round frame. I have a fierce and determined expression – my raised thumb in the forefront confirming my force and vigor, more or less telling the viewer not to mess with me. I did not know her well yet, but she depicted something other than physical likeness, which required the viewer – including me -- to think a bit more about the meaning and intent of the portrait. After much talking with her and thinking, I understood the portrait depicted both of us. We were struggling with the same issues. Our attitudes corresponded in that painting, though our respective lifestyles collided. In the broader context, it reminds us and other viewers of the many women who were similarly struggling to find that singular space in the world.
For me, the portrait also illustrated two sides of a coin. As I got to know Marjorie better, I came to view her as good and kind, but – I suppose – also ‘sinful’ – and certainly a rebel indicative of her time. I experienced her as someone who lived out her fantasies. In that respect, she was the half of me that wished it could have acted out. She was intuitive and passionate and imaginative about her art and her life. Her dreams and fantasies found themselves in her paintings, which created a very personal iconography that was not always easy to understand. I am seemingly rational, cool calm, and collected. It was an eye opener for me (art-wise and personally) to become so close to a person who was not only an exhibitionist but a smart one, so brilliant at putting paint on canvas creating both likeness and personality, that also explored universal themes and stories. It was fascinating. I would guess her iconography was off-putting for many – she was both child woman and aggressive vampire. And in an art-historical context she was a pop art devotee, but also very personally involved in her iconography. It was not ‘cool’ and distant like minimalist and pop art is. I am not the expert, but I knew I was experiencing an amazingly original and creative spirit.
Marjorie’s studio on 5th Avenue, above which was then The Hat Shop, was ringed with huge mostly round paintings peopled with nudes and others with recognizable faces –often her own or those of a man in her life. There was little order, but always present were paints and brushes and her amazing energy. She exhibited -- among other things -- a keen interest in big machines. Airplanes, trucks. cement mixers and trains. The trains were inspired by the labels on “Nighttime Express,” 99-cent bottles of wine that littered the Gaslamp’s gutters. As girlfriends, we chuckled and laughed at the symbolism she/we found in these objects.
When Marjorie and John moved to Ocean Beach, she invited Ellen Phelan and me to salvage what we might want. One memorable painting we salvaged was a 6-8 foot tondo divided into six pie shapes of a nude Sheldon Nodelman in a classical pose of some kind. I have one piece of the ‘pie’ -- Sheldon’s left leg has been hanging in my bathroom for years. A vivid example of her creativity and ingenuity. Sheldon is an art historian of note, a Roman portrait scholar and also of the renaissance, a great influence during their relationship at a seminal part of her artistic life.
I also commissioned portraits of my three children, my then boyfriend, now husband and family. These paintings portray each in a unique, personal way -- not symbolically as mine—but catching their spirit and individuality. I live with these and a 3-foot round paintings of vegetables, a cubist painting with hand grenades and other military reference and a train charging ahead.
I could go on and on with stories and anecdotes but will conclude with the sadness I feel that she passed so young and with unfulfilled dreams of success in the wider art world, which did not value her creative spirit adequately and which she deserved.
Ellen Phelan, 11 October 2015
I can say without reservation that Marjorie was the most audacious, provocative artist in San Diego while she lived here. And her “effect” remained after she moved to Riverside County where he creativity took new and always fascinating forms. Her slow demise and finally her death brought on such a feeling of loss, as she was a wonderful friend – an art friend who inspired and mentored me. She was lively, loving and always a profound influence. In conversation and in person, she always made me feel as if I were a painter too. We would talk for hours on the telephone as she painted and she would explain what she was doing and why. How many artists can transfer that feeling? How privileged I was to know her and work with her!
I first met Marjorie through Richard Armstrong, now director of the Guggenheim but then a curator at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. At the time, I was chairman of the docents. Richard often suggested an artist to collect and suggested I meet Marjorie, as he felt she was an important artist and needed the money. Richard suggested often a portrait.
When I went down to her downtown studio, I was completely overwhelmed. Downtown was then very debauched. It was hard to accommodate meeting her and be in her space. The impact of her huge tondos, her gifts as a painter, and her focus stunned me, I was blown away. As a political activist at UCSD for many years she was right on in her depiction of the world. The political messages in her huge tondos depicted Military Industrial Complex. They jumped off the wall, as powerful as the great pop artists.
At the time, my commitment was immediate and full-hearted. (Not until later did I understand how critical a step our meeting was in my life trajectory, my activism and San Diego’s cultural legacy.) Before I left the studio, it was decided to do a double portrait of Jim & I and she wanted to meet Jim. I suggested that she come out to a party I was giving to meet him. She came and sat at the dessert table, and just watched interactions between people. She played with and ate frosting, and didn’t really mix. Despite being timid, her presence there was felt.
When she presented me with the portrait…. With hardly any contact with us, somehow Marjorie had captured our relationship on canvas. Jim socially always followed me along and we always had fun. Marjorie’s depiction of this dynamic amazed us and others. Marjorie’s deftness as a portraitist cannot be overstated. And, as an aspect of her body of work, the interrelationship of Marjorie to the subjects, and the subjects’ foothold in our community is just as profound. Marjorie did a portrait of Richard Armstrong, who had introduced us.
Konrad Oberhuber, the connoisseur art historian, said it was the most important work in my collection. Marjorie had represented a period and era of art history – a disco pop portrait. I would name it, “Come on, Let’s disco!”. She later did other work for me too – a valentine, a fabric fish, etc. It didn’t matter what Marjorie touched, whether stitching, color or paint. She was irrepressibly tactile!
One of her best works, which I have, is of Ludwig Suessmilch, a friend and retired clinical psychologist who had been assigned to treat the woman who shot Andy Warhol at Belview, NY. Lud was fascinated with Marjorie, but didn’t like the portrait (which she hoped to sell to him), because he thought he looked too lascivious.
It is said the only way to do a favor for an artist is to promote but also to buy the work. I was able to suggest Marjorie as a portraitist to many others, including Elvi Olesen, Tershia d’Elgin, the Hayworths, Stoddards and others. Marjorie became acquainted with my many involvements and our lives become more and more entwined. This was but the beginning of many years of parties in different studios, homes and with her different husbands.
To generate interest and support for artists like Marjorie Nodelman, I developed Banquet Seminars, a concept to meet an artist in a relaxed atmosphere and thru osmosis appraise the artist and the work. These events were usually at my house, where we hung the artists’ pieces and fed the guests. However, because Marjorie’s were so large, we decided to have a Banquet Seminar in her studio downtown which was more appropriate. Tershia was the caterer. About 50 came. People made reservations and paid to attend a party that paid for itself. Elvi Olesen and Dick Singer had their first date at the event.
Marjorie, her art work and the “force of Marjorie” quickly integrated into my art, life and ideas. I used slides of her paintings in my contemporary art talks with the SD City School & UCSD extension. Marjorie also epitomized my passion for promoting women, especially artist who lived in San Diego. I was on the board of the Branstater Gallery at Loma Linda University, where we did a show “Women Artists, Women’s Issues,” in which I featured Marjorie.
Being active in the San Diego Museum of Art, I was chairman of a gala in which guests were to come as a character from their favorite painting. I chose Marjorie’s painting, “Atomba Bomba,” that was up in the one of the entrances. Marjorie delighted to create me in her image. She did up my hair and makeup to resemble her and I wore a bomber jacket that a friend loaned me. What a success and what fun!
Along with a group of art activists from UCSD Visual Arts, we felt we should find out more about San Diego artists. We put out a call to artists to bring five slides and five minutes to present their ideas. The idea was to see and encourage local artists. Along with this idea was to create “Arttalk”, an art paper we launched to promote the most outstanding among them. Marjorie knew the artists and suggested their participation. We were thinking about this rich community.
Then came “More is More.” In 1985 the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art got a new director, Hugh Davies and the museum soon committed to exhibit San Diego’s top 42 artists. We were all very excited, of course. The museum hired an out-of-towner curator. When I heard through the grapevine of the artists chosen, I was dismayed and very surprised. I immediately called Hugh. A number of important artists, I said, Marjorie at the top of the list, were left out of the show. Hugh said he couldn’t change the lineup. I said it was crucial to some of us that these artists be shown, as it was the first time so much attention would be paid by a museum. I suggested an alternative exhibition at the Athenaeum Library. Hugh was for it.
Sheldon Nodelman thought I should be the curator of the “More Is More” salon des refusés exhibition. Once again Marjorie was the main reason and she rallied the other artists who took over the upstairs of the Athenaeum and made an art gallery for the show. We hastened to get the municipal permits to use the public space and convert it. We even included an additional space across the street in a new building with large glass windows on Girard in our footprint. It involved a lot of dedication and a lot of work.
Marjorie had the idea for klieg lights to draw attention to our show on opening night. Not to be outdone, the museum rented klieg lights too. With a concurrent opening at the museum, it was a great event for San Diego artists. Epic! The enormous lights arced and crossed in the night sky, uniting the two institutions as one. The evens attracted over 1,000 people and over 50 pages of publicity. It was major. Of the “More is More” show, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight called Marjorie’s “techno-pop futurist painting the only a fully realized work in the show.”
As overt as Marjorie’s appearance and paintings were, she had a shyness and vulnerability about her, when it came to promoting herself. For all its inspiration and spirit, her refusal or inability to kowtow or “play the game” socially also worked against her, marketing-wise. People could be uneasy with her style, much as they admired it. She was hostile towards local institutions. She wanted to shake them up.
\The fascinating story of Marjorie’s marriages and the loyalty of her husbands is legendary. We’ve all gotten together annually or more, and we all loved Marjorie.
Marjorie was always there. She had a girlfriend’s qualities of caring, being there for you. But to me, she was also an art friend – a friend who shared the creative side of life. I loved talking to her about her art and what she was thinking of doing. It brought out the artist in me. I felt the doing of art through her. I loved her little hands that seemed so tactile and gentle in expression.
I can still feel her paint strokes. Marjorie Nodelman’s art was the art of being, the art of living. Whether the canvas was her body, her wardrobe, her persona, or her home, it always answered the question “who am I?” She was the artwork. And her artwork is Marjorie.