Michael K. Corbin talks with AJ Nadel
A.J. NADEL: FIERCE INDEPENDENCE
You might call A.J. (Alfred) Nadel a “Renaissance Man.” Not only is he an artist of great depth and
talent, but he’s also Dr. Alfred Nadel, the ophthalmologist. Isn’t it great to know that we don’t have
to be only “one thing” in life? AJ certainly proves that with a doctor’s mind and an artist’s insight …
Read on and see what I mean …
“…The body can be viewed as … a landscape onto which can be projected a variety of
emotions, social viewpoints and sexual inclinations … The puritanical viewpoint …
is not likely to disappear. Sexuality is all around us … but seems to be “dirty” when
MICHAEL: Hello Alfred, I was just looking at your paintings, drawings and photographic work.
To me, it all reads like a photo album almost. It's sort of like memories of the past. Not
necessarily nostalgia, but maybe a certain wistfulness about perhaps what has happened. Am I
AJ: To answer, as a start, the images reflect the present, with the exception of the small collages
called, “Snapshots,” which invoke memory and personal space. The larger figural images relate to
feelings which belong to the way I regard individuals (more frequently women) and how they can
show themselves to the world around them.
MICHAEL: I think the images give me a sense of muted or veiled sensuality and sexuality with
some of them. But I do feel a sense of longing in them. I guess it's just me?
AJ: No, not just you. I have an artist friend who, when he sees my images, exclaims, “Wow, Don't
you just lust for those women!”
MICHAEL: Uh, Yeah.
AJ: They can certainly be sensual and somewhat erotic in posture and gesture. They can reflect an
unconscious desire on my part, but they also display a fierce independence and, sometimes, a
disdain or disregard for an absent figure in the narrative and for the viewer. If a second figure is
present (usually me), the relationship is not always clear. Are the figures together willingly or
MICHAEL: Once again, I'm chatting with an artist who is completely comfortable with the idea that
viewers may see their work differently than they do. You know Alfred, this is something that most
people just don't understand; it's okay for them to have their own, personal, unique views about
art. What do you think about this?
AJ: I'm in agreement that interpretations can legitimately be different. There may be attitudes of
mine that come through with the images, attitudes not present consciously when the images were
created. Years ago, I had a long email discussion with the artist Nicole Eisenman (also a friend)
because she felt that the women portrayed evidenced the stereotypical male gaze. I disagreed
because the figures maintain an independence and if the women are sexual, it is a display of their
power - a view shared by some, but not all, feminists.
MICHAEL: You would think that given all of the nudity we've seen in art (not to mention life in
general), people would be "over it." However, this puritanical, dark and shameful view of the
human body continues to stun me. It seems to me that if we can "heal" our views about nudity,
contemporary art would move light years ahead. I don't know. I'm just a consumer of art. How
do you see this from the creation side?
AJ: The body can be viewed as a "tabula rasa" or a landscape onto which can be projected a
variety of emotions, social viewpoints and sexual inclinations. That's our world. As you know, in
the famous Titian painting, it is the nude figure which is sacred, not profane. There is more
eroticism in partly-dressed figures than in fully-nude ones. The puritanical viewpoint seems
primarily Anglo-American (though no longer so in this century) and is not likely to disappear.
Sexuality is all around us in this country, but seems to be “dirty” when visually-represented.
MICHAEL: Do you come from a creative family? When did you first become aware of yourself as
an artist? You went to Columbia. Shouldn't you have opted for med or law school?
AJ: Most of my family are teachers. I did have a distant cousin, Joseph Kaplan, who was a painter
(Provincetown school) but I never met him. I did go to Columbia College of Physicians and
Surgeons and have been a practicing retina specialist for all of my career. However, I have always
had an interest in art and I took many graduate courses (without matriculating) at Hunter, NYU
and Columbia while in practice. Some of the professors included Leo Steinberg, Robert Rosenblum,
and Allen Staley. I started taking private lessons one afternoon a week in the 1980s. Things
mushroomed from there. I've had my own studio since the 1990s.
MICHAEL: The fact that you’re a retina specialist … How do think this has impacted your views
and work as an artist? Or has it?
AJ: OK. As an ophthalmologist and retina specialist, I am focused on the importance of vision and
on observation. I look for clues to hint at the personality of the patients (and their families) in our
encounters. This certainly extends into my art because I focus on single figures or on artist/ model/
viewer relationships. I don't, like some other artists, including Nicole think in terms of social or
other groupings of multiple figures. Another non-medical source of my interests is the urban theater
where much of what appears onstage focuses on individual characters and their relationships with
MICHAEL: I find it very interesting that many accomplished people take up individual, creative
pursuits – like art – later in life. What do you think this is about?
AJ: It may be due to an increased confidence in oneself so that there is less fear of “speaking out”
or it may be the need to finally say something while there is still time. Perhaps experience has
provided insights which need expression. It's important, however, to separate what is a hobby from
a second profession. There are people who find artistic expression as a change of pace and a chance
to explore something different for which they might have some talent. As a profession, it means
hard work, sleepless nights and the need to have the work recognized sufficiently by others for
them to pay to acquire it. Professionalism implies a driving force and may be the extension at a later
time of a career that was dormant earlier.
MICHAEL: Indeed. What do you think about the art world/art market today and how they function?
What would you change if you could?
AJ: The art market really is a business in the sense that works of art have become currency for
profit (or loss). At the high end, works of art have become stocks, traded frequently among a select
few. At the lower end, the hype for a new (and younger) face has pushed artists into the market
place before they have had time to prove the depth of their talent. I don't know how much different
this was in the “old days,” but I thought at one time gallery owners more or less tried to nurture the
development of their artists rather than pushing them before the collectors. Frankly, I don't know
how to change the current situation or whether it’s evenpossible considering the status of our
economic, social and political disparities.
MICHAEL: So given all of that, Alfred, why be a professional artist? You figure there really are less
than 100 truly successful artists in all of art history. So what's the point?
AJ: The best answer is ego, the need to say something and, possibly, to make a change in some
lives (even if it's one or two). Also true in medicine. Help 1-2 people in a real way and that's
MICHAEL: Thanks Alfred. Enlightening chat.
AJ: Thank you! Good and interesting questions which certainly can be debated at length.
Check out Michael K. Corbin, the Art Book Guy at http://www.artbookguy.com/.