Q+Art: Artist Mike Nudelman Elevates the Mundane to Sublime, Supernatural Heights
Mike Nudelman creates melancholic ballpoint pen drawings that mesmerize in their layered complexity. Working small, the Santa Fe-based artist renders sublime landscapes with a subtle, otherworldly presence by sneaking in saucer-like shapes that hover cryptically in the background.
Nudelman’s drawings from his recent body of work And Yet… are partially based on photographs taken in the 1970s by Eduard Albert “Billy” Meier, a Swiss man who believed he was documenting actual UFO encounters. Nudelman’s style, a meticulous “array of inky hatchings,” imbues the work with a pixelated effect, one that mimics the grainy aesthetic of paranormal photography. Here, Nudelman plays both racketeer and believer, equal parts Agent Fox Mulder and snake oil salesman. His enigmatic drawings are impossible to fully decipher, yet they hint at a deep-seated need for meaning and control within a chaotic reality.
Like Romantic landscape paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries, Nudelman’s work tends toward introspection and picturesque vistas. Visible in the distance through bare-branched trees, his saucers add a deep, existential meaning to the fuzzy horizons that echo across each piece with a “disorienting déjà vu.” In keeping with Romantic convention, Nudelman’s work elevates the mundane to the supernatural through implied solitude, self-reflection, and divine intervention.
While science can temporarily suspend disbelief in mysterious forces—whether God, aliens, or ghosts—these beliefs return time and time again in new mythologies. Instead of offering answers, Nudelman’s drawings muddy the waters of reality, challenging our need to assign higher meaning to cryptic events. Whether these events qualify as mere fabrication or represent a larger truth is beside the point. No matter the phenomena, Nudelman, like Agent Mulder, suggests we all “want to believe” in something.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Mike Nudelman discusses the tension between inner and outer worlds, maintaining a balanced art career, and his impulse to buy strange books in the middle of the night.
Which books, fiction or nonfiction, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Mike Nudelman: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, for it’s timeless guidance on how to be present.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
MN: Saul Steinberg.
What are you trying to express with your art?
MN: I think of my drawings as the output and artifact of an ongoing exploration towards resolving the relationship between my inner and outer worlds. I hope they become a catalyst for viewers to examine their own perceptions.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
MN: A younger, more idealistic version of me would have said yes. But now I’m focused on how to manage a balanced and sustainable art career, which for me requires a more pragmatic approach.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
MN: Buying strange books on eBay in the middle of the night.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
MN: Shifting my mentality to focus on the process rather than the results.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
MN: In grad school an advisor told me that a good measure of success is if you're still making work in ten years. At the time I remember thinking that was pretty pessimistic—but it makes perfect sense to me now. Still feeling committed to your practice even as your priorities and perspective shifts means you're making life-affirming work and you should feel great about it.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
MN: I feel I benefited a lot from the experience of getting a BFA and an MFA. I attended a university, rather than an art school for undergrad, which is something I would highly recommend to young artists. Thinking back on it, the most inspiring and impactful classes and professors were outside my BFA program.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
MN: The world is bleak enough—I don’t understand the impulse to be insincere or create insincere work.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
MN: I work in silence a lot of the time, but last night I listened to Front 242.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
MN: From the perspective of my art practice, little’s changed this year—which feels a bit odd, considering how much life and work outside the studio has been turned upside down. It’s interesting to find myself having to endure the daily realities of many themes I’ve explored in my work over the past decade—mediated experience, illusory perception, hope, loss, and distance.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
MN: The next drawing!
Mike Nudelman: Website | Instagram
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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