• ads

Stefan Nodarse

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Artist
Dec 1st, 2021
0 Comments
352 Views

ARTICLE BY STARLA GATSON

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

Stefan Nodarse aspired to be a comic book artist, but his career in art took several turns before landing in printmaking. As an alumni of the University of Monroe’s art program, and a Master’s graduate of Indiana State University, the Oak Grove native returned home to teach at ULM. Nodarse is also the curator of collections and exhibitions at the Masur Museum of Art. 

A comic book artist — that’s the answer a young Stefan Nodarse would give when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. 

Like most children, the Oak Grove native had been drawing from a very early age, doodling with crayons and playing around with finger paints. But as he got older and his peers’ interests began shifting to other things, it was still art that captured Nodarse’s attention. That’s why, when he was old enough to begin seriously considering where he would attend college, institutions like The Kubert School in Dover, New Jersey, and The Art Institute of Dallas were contenders. 

Ultimately, Nodarse ended up enrolling at the University of Louisiana at Monroe with the intent of studying graphic design. It didn’t take long, though, for the new college student to realize the computer-centric degree program wasn’t exactly what he thought it was — “I thought graphic design was comic books, and I didn’t grow up with a computer,” he admits with a chuckle. After toughing it out for about a year and a half, Nodarse made the decision to switch his major to the thing that would prove to be a perfect fit for him: printmaking. 

“I was a horrible painter, and drawing could only go so far, or so I thought at the time,” he explains. “Printmaking just kind of jumped out at me. The process of making multiples and the lines that you can get with etching was so similar to the ink lines of comic books, so I kind of gravitated toward that.”

he guidance of his instructors, including Doyle Jeter and later, Jason Clark, would help Nodarse find success in printmaking rather quickly — so quickly, in fact, that his first successful print would be accepted into the university’s student juried exhibition. This moment would act as confirmation for the then-student that this was a creative process worth pursuing. 

“I was reading Paradise Lost at the time, and I developed my own image of what an angel was,” he says of the print. “I got in my first exhibition with just that print, and then I kept wanting to make art, play with imagery, and try to blend the style I grew up with from comic books and find a place for that in the art realm.”

Nodarse’s passion for the process earned him a Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking in 2009, and in 2015, he chose to continue his studies at Indiana State University, where he would earn a Master of Fine Arts with distinction in printmaking in 2018. 

After receiving his MFA, he stayed in the Hoosier State to start his professional career, first working at the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute before joining the faculty of both St. Mary of the Woods College and Indiana State as an instructor. He hadn’t even gotten two full years of teaching under his belt before COVID-19 burst onto the scene, disrupting business as usual and pushing Nodarse and his students out of the studio and into their homes.

Like countless other educators around the world, Nodarse had to adapt to teaching from home. When he wasn’t on Skype calls with his students in his basement-turned-studio, he says he found himself doing not much else besides reading and watching television. Soon, those activities left him feeling less than satisfied, and just as everyone else was, Nodarse was itching for a way to pass the time in isolation. Rather than following the lead of the masses and scrolling through TikTok for hours, sipping too many cups of the viral whipped coffee that took the internet by storm, or baking loaf after loaf of sourdough bread, however, he turned to a different outlet: painting. 

The three large self-portraits he completed during quarantine weren’t the artist’s first ventures into painting, though. Despite not having painted since his late teen years, Nodarse had agreed to take over a painting class the summer before, and two weeks before the course began, he purchased a small paint set, a canvas, and a few brushes to give himself a quick still life lesson. Teaching the class and working alongside the students made him realize he genuinely liked painting, he explains, and this newfound enjoyment coupled with his quarantine-induced boredom led him to start a few paint projects of his own. 

Though Nodarse was having fun pressing into his interest in painting, he realized he needed a more significant change of pace. “I was kind of depressed, and I just decided I didn’t want to be in Indiana anymore,” he says. This decision led to a few text messages and phone calls with ULM art faculty members Cliff Tresner, an associate professor, and Joni Noble, the university’s art program director. Before long, the printmaker had his next step in the works: he would return to Louisiana and work at his undergraduate alma mater. 

Nodarse returned to the Pelican State just in time to begin teaching at ULM for the 2020-21 school year, and since then, he has been finding his place in the North Louisiana art scene. Local art lovers may have seen his work on display at The Palace during a Downtown Monroe Art Crawl, or perhaps they caught a glimpse of “Out of Storage,” his solo exhibition at ULM’s Bry Gallery that was shown from September to October of this year. 

Wherever one may have seen his work, though, an art patron shouldn’t be surprised if it evoked some sense of discomfort; it’s a theme Nodarse says seems to have shown up in much of his work, often unintentionally. “I read horror novels and watch horror films, and all my work was kind of centered around that theme,” he explains. “I got to grad school, and I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t going to work here,’ so I went into portraiture.”

But even the portraits he created seemed to be centered around making their viewers a bit uncomfortable, he says. He recalls one portrait series in particular based on a series of very exaggerated facial expressions and grunts he and his cousins used to make at one another. “I remembered not even thinking about it being scary or off-putting,” he says of the large portraits, “but I started looking at all of them, and I was like, ‘This is kind of unnerving.’ The horror aspect was still there; I did it without even thinking about it.” 

While he says its influence seems to be a recurring theme of his work, the horror genre Nodarse loves isn’t his only source of inspiration. He draws ideas from other places, the first being pretty much any book that captures his attention. “I’ve found that it doesn’t matter what you read; as long as it’s interesting and you’re into it, that can really influence what you’re going to do,” he explains. Another source of creative revelations, he goes on to say, tends to be the artists and instructors he’s crossed paths with, citing the aforementioned Tresner and Jeter as major influences on his work. 

Nodarse says his full-time job as the curator of collections and exhibitions at the Masur Museum, which he calls “a hell of a lot of fun so far,” also sparks inspiration, as he gets to consistently work with artists and figure out how best to install their shows. This role is a bit of a full-circle moment for him, too, as it was a Masur exhibition from 2008 that directly influenced his thesis. 

And, of course, when Nodarse isn’t at the Masur, he’s doing what he initially planned to do upon returning to the south: teach. The adjunct professor says his role as an educator not only helps guide his students through their creative endeavors but also provides much-needed motivation for his own work. 

“You give students advice about how they’re working and what they’re doing, and through that conversation, you kind of start thinking about taking your own advice,” he says. “You’re telling students what you might not have thought about telling yourself because of whatever hold-ups or inadequacies you may have as an artist. A lot of artists don’t think too highly of their work, and when you’re encouraging students a certain way, you realize you should be telling yourself that, too.”

Between his places of employment and the artists with which he surrounds himself, Nodarse is certainly not at a loss for inspiration and influence. Still, the artist says he’s not sure what his next body of work will look like. “I don’t know if I’m still going to work with portraiture or not,” he confesses. “I keep saying I’m not going to, and then I keep going back to it. I’m trying to experiment with more figurative stuff.” 

Now, Nodarse says he is experimenting with different materials and concepts, and regardless of where his attempts lead, he is determined to find pleasure in the process, just as he did when he took up painting during quarantine. “I’ve found that where I’m satisfied with something is where I’m having fun doing it.”