Keep an Eye on It: Neva Mikulicz’s Sci-Fi World at Anya Tish Gallery

Artist Neva Mikulicz sees a growing “anti-science” attitude in our culture, and it creeps her out.

Mikulicz’s solo exhibition Declassified —at Anya Tish Gallery in Houston (Dec. 4 – Jan. 5) — leverages this lack of trust in scientific facts to spark curiosity and imagination. Her fourth solo presentation at the gallery, the show includes new renditions of her signature hyper-realistic, detailed drawings—this time embedded, infused, and augmented with LED lights, light projection, sound recordings, and archival videos, all newly adopted elements for the artist.

Having recently retired from her day job at Digital Imaging Group where she had been responsible for troubleshooting and digitally retouching images in Photoshop, Mikulicz developed her skills for creating the nearly visually impossible. Art imitated life, as it tends to do, and over the years an interesting parallel surfaced in her studio: she was creating “issues’’ for herself to address in her own drawings.

“As artists in school, we learn perspective and all of the formal ways of drawing,” she says, “then all of a sudden, we start breaking the rules.”

Whether forcing the light to fall just so to create surreal shadows and hyperreal colors, or combining objects from different eras in one skewed scene, Mikulicz depicts things that aren’t quite right but also aren’t all that wrong.

For the Declassified body of work, she drew from her love of science fiction, sourcing inspiration from old photographs, childhood memories, and pop culture materials from the 1950s and ʼ60s. She began experimenting with drawing on an iPad, as well as using her trusty graphite and colored pencil. Ideas for the show, which includes an exhibition catalogue comic book, snowballed from there.

Viewers can’t help but be amused by the excruciatingly detailed, meticulous drawings of unwieldy subject matter. The twisted relationships between mass media hysteria and scientific discovery are unavoidable.

“My drawings are super realistic but are of things that never existed. Or they existed but not quite…I tweak it so that it doesn’t seem right,” says Mikulicz.

For example, in Hmmm, a Prismacolor drawing on paper, she depicts a mod urban apartment complete with orb-style ceiling lighting, floor to ceiling windows, and a balcony, all the better to view the flying saucers. The flat screen TV flickers with a newsreel.

In Roadtrip, Bucees, and Flying Saucer, also Prismacolor on paper, the Texas mainstay travel center sign flashes with color LEDs: red, green, and blue—the transport color code for go, stop, and, perhaps, UFO.

Mikulicz further explains her love of the slightly off-kilter, pointing to her interest in collapsing expectations around artworks. By pairing her drawings with video or another time-based element, she is able to thwart the medium’s static nature. The result is a series of surprising short stories, vignettes, that bring to mind old stop animations and other forms of pre-digital manipulated entertainment.

Growing up hearing (and seeing) stories of Bigfoot and UFO sightings, Godzilla movies, space travel, and other sci-fi or paranormal activity, Mikulicz has long been fascinated by the sense of camaraderie within these communities.

“I’ve pretty much always been one of those people on the outside looking in. What is it that makes some things or people seductive and others not?”

And surely, she wonders aloud, believing in UFOs and extraterrestrial life, and hanging out with other people who believe the same, is better than getting involved in something that is actually causing identifiable harm?

Mikulicz writes in her comic book that accompanies the exhibition, “These drawings are an expression of love for science, for science fiction, and knowing the difference between the two.” She explains further than the show, as a whole, is a serious comment on knowing the difference between real science and fake science, saying, “Sometimes it’s tricky, you know. It melds, one into the other. You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Not only has she made her career as an artist using that approach, she pokes at the beast to inject a little levity and enjoyment along the way.

“Especially in the time we’re having—this time of anti-science—it’s a good opportunity to have some fun with that.”