If famed surrealist Salvador Dali had developed an interest in microscopes, his art might have looked like the paintings of Ashland artist Micah Oftstedahl.

Oftstedahl focuses on elements of nature that are often too small to be seen with the naked eye.

Whether he's painting single nerve cells or ocean-living zooplankton with ornate mineral skeletons, Oftstedahl gives his subjects a surreal, dream-like quality.

He often hears people compare his paintings to Dali's artwork.

"I hear it all the time when people look at my art," Oftstedahl said. "He did make these worlds, scenes and landscapes that are realistic but dream-like."

While the flamboyant, mustachioed Dali is best known for his depictions of melting clocks, Oftstedahl is more likely to crack open the medical textbook "Gray's Anatomy" for inspiration.

Oftstedahl said anatomy books are filled with illustrations that provide fodder for his art.

"They have all sorts of cool images. They have things that you don't normally see that make up what we are and the rest of the world," he said.

The 30-year-old began incorporating science elements into his work a few years ago and has now branched beyond anatomy to cover many aspects of the natural world.

One favorite is radiolarians, zooplankton that produce incredibly intricate, symmetrical mineral skeletons.

In "The Radiolarian's Fight to Bridge the Gap," Oftstedahl has painted a radiolarian perched on the edge of a chasm laced with arteries and veins.

Like many of his pieces, the painting is done in a landscape-format to give it a surreal quality.

He takes even more liberties with reality with paintings such as "Inward Perception of Outward Illusions," which features anatomical structures of the eye. At the same time, a regular landscape with a field, grass, clouds and the sky is reflected in an eye-shaped structure in the painting.

"The eye is such an important anatomical part of us," Oftstedahl said. "It's symbolic and powerful. There are a lot of visually interesting things going on anatomically with the eye — enough inspiration for a painting."

Although they have a surreal feel, his paintings contain subjects done in such a realistic style that medical personnel and biologists often recognize them.

"I'll have doctors and nurses and medical students recognize things. Or if they are going to massage school or are massage therapists or physical therapists, they recognize things, so they're often drawn to that," Oftstedahl said.

He also gets reactions from biologists and others in scientific fields when he incorporates microscopic creatures.

Others see science fiction elements in his surreal worlds.

Oftstedahl said while science insiders can recognize the subject matter in his paintings, he tries to pick structures that aren't immediately recognizable to the general public.

"Certain images capture me as having a good artistic composition. I like things that are unique, beautiful and strange, and not instantly recognizable like a brain, lung or hand," he said. "I'm drawn to something more mysterious, like vein structure, nerves or tissue. I like microscopic things down to the cellular level."

Oftstedahl said nature often repeats itself in its patterns and structures. A striking formation in one organism or anatomical structure can often be found in something completely different.

"All of nature is an art form," he said.

Oftstedahl's paintings are on display at Liquid Assets Wine Bar, 96 N. Main St., through Jan. 18. He will be on hand for an artist's reception from 5 to 8 p.m. during January's First Friday Art Walk on Friday, Jan. 4.

Liquid Assets is open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 3 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

For more information about Ofstedahl and his work, visit his website at micahofstedahl.com or call him at 1-831-325-9169.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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