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  • Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson - Artist Profile

Marilyn Nelson Our Capacities for Self Repair and Resistance to Damage Decrease Acrylic on canvas 1982 65" x 66" x 1.25"

Marilyn Nelson

Artist on the move:

This sounds very trite, but I was always an artist...

Military art brat:

During my three years of high school in Naples, Italy...

I’m looking over:

Since early childhood, I have found and collected four-leaf clovers...

Everything counts:

Compulsive counting has been evident since childhood...

Parts into wholes:

An innate sense of organization was essential to hand-making most of my clothes...


Living near Navy shipyards I watched vessels arrive waving their brightly colored...

Formalism + function:

I’m a formalist. What I return to and appreciate most is...

Sitting with murals:

I also enjoy many artists from long ago time periods. For example, recently in Siena...

The takeaway:

I want viewers to have an intellectual and emotional response...


I keep everything that I don’t sell or...

I’m painting/I’m painting again:

I love the rhythm, repetition and lyrics of...

Systemic painting is:

Systemic patterning may be described as anti-impressionistic...

Pattern painting vs. paintings with patterns:

What is the difference between a pattern painter and a painter that uses pattern?

The abstract made visible:

I loved the expressive qualities of the P&D movement, but...

All a non:

Nonrepresentational painting expresses emotion or concept without depicting a person...

Not one to play favorites:

I’m more interested in the interaction of colors when applied side-by-side than in having favorite color schemes...

Recurring patterns, shapes, patterns, shapes:

Regular polygons, especially the hexagon, grids, tree leaves, and the four-leaf clover...

Abstract’s appeal:

Maybe because abstraction distorts, alters reality, allowing the viewer to question what is real and to create his/her own narrative about the work.

Color against color:

In hard-edge paintings, I enjoy the clarity of color against color. Colors don’t get all muddied up. Hard-edge painting reminds me of the sharp-edged shadows from the afternoon sun in the western landscape.

Getting lost:

Non-objective work provides a space for the viewer to just “be,” perhaps to allow the eye to wander throughout the piece locating subtle contrasts created by the artist. The viewer can become lost for hours in thoughts that may or may not relate to the painting. I frequently visit my family in Houston and on many occasions have visited the Rothko Chapel, a beautiful space to sit and contemplate or meditate.

Got grid?:

The grid is fundamental to humanity. We have imposed grids upon the landscape, grids charting the oceans and stars. Our lives are organized around the grid of our calendars, our houses, our cities, our technology, etc. Look around, grids are everywhere.

The grid in art has provided a structural framework within which to present the artist’s concepts for hundreds of years. The grid was also used to develop the illusion of perspective in landscape art.

Overheard reactions:

“How long did that take to do?”

“How did you come up with that idea?”

“This is stunning, mesmerizing.”

“Quite obsessive.”

“Well crafted. How did you do that?”

“You must have the patience of a saint.”

In search of:

I just work. I create for myself. It’s all exploratory. However, my graphic design work in the past was specifically for clients and to serve a purpose. I see a difference.

Where she is now:

I currently live in Fayetteville, Arkansas where I’m an Emeritus Professor of Art from the University of Arkansas.


I love talking to other artists and designers—as long as their work is well crafted and not clunky. Otherwise, I have difficulty knowing what to say.

I exchange ideas with other artist and designer friends, and my husband. I hike deep into the forest with my dogs and let them, the seasons, the trees, birds, snakes, squirrels, coyotes and the deer inspire me.

Finding the Wow!:

I identify with artists who work with pattern and geometry; and/or whose work is an exploratory process; those that allow an underlying structure to the work; those that can make me say “WOW” about the use of color (or value shifts in black and white work): works in which it is apparent there is a great amount of thought involved. I dislike sloppy work and lazy thinking as an artist.

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