Decoding the Decrepit

Fourth-year Ben Nikodem conveys his fascination with urban landscapes and industrial decay through this illustration series.

Mixed Media. Seen from the Green Line on a cold February night.

By Ben Nikodem

If I could define myself as an artist, I’d say I’m a doodler. If a piece of paper comes near me, it usually ends up covered with drawings of goofy faces, creatures, and the like. Even my college notebooks have more sketches than course material. My doodles are hardly publishable, but they play a large part in defining my more technical and serious work.

Though I’d say my work isn’t imbued with much deep meaning and symbolism, many different themes, moods, and artists inspire it. Again and again I’m drawn to industrial cityscapes. The symmetrical and exact intricacies of modern structures such as power plants or railroad bridges have always fascinated me. Many regard them as eyesores, but if you look at them in the right light (or very little in the case of silhouetting), even cluttered construction sites can become entrancing.

Nature’s relationship with the manmade is something else I approach in much of my artwork. Maybe it’s an abandoned city, weathered by the elements, or a lonely residence in the woods. In any case, the juxtaposition of order and disorder makes for some interesting pieces. From an artistic standpoint, I find it both challenging and gratifying to emulate the aesthetic clashes found in industrial decay.

Many of the artists who influence me explore similar themes. Hayao Miyazaki, Jean Giraud, Wayne Barlowe, Auguste Renoir, and Bill Watterson are some of my favorites. Not to mention, they’re all doodlers to some extent. I’d like to think all artists are.