Art imitates video games

Cultures collide in graphic book
Duck Hunter S. Thompson, by Tim Tomkinson, is one of more than 120 pieces of game-inspired art included in I Am 8-Bit, a 156-page, 1 1/2 pound graphic book that highlights the crossroads where pop art and video game culture collide. The book, due to hit book stores as early as this week for $22.95, is proof that art does exist in gaming, says its creator, Jon M. Gibson.

I Am 8-Bit
Author: Jon M. Gibson
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Pages: 156
Genre: General non-fiction
Price: $22.95
By Brian D. Crecente, Rocky Mountain News April 3, 2006
Hunter S. Thompson looks over his shoulder through gold-tinted glasses, a plastic cigarette holder tucked into the corner of his mouth, a bush hat that says "Duck Hunter" on his head.
In his hand, he holds a plastic lightgun for the Nintendo Entertainment System, its plastic cord dangling.
Behind him a smiling digital dog stands in knee-high grass, dead digital duck grasped in his hand.
The art piece, a mix of gouache, ink and pencil on a canvas smaller than a piece of letter head, is titled Duck Hunter S. Thompson.
It's on page 88 of I Am 8-Bit, a 156-page, 1 1/2 pound graphic book that highlights the crossroads where pop art and video game culture collide.
Page 64 features an oil on canvas of a slack-jawed child staring blank-eyed straight ahead. Reflected in her pupils are tiny twin games of Missile Command.
Thirty pages away, iconic but aged video game characters perpetually reenact their games as a decrepit Pac-Man in a rocking chair looks on. An IV drops power pills into his pencil-thin arm.
The book, due to hit book stores as early as this week for $22.95, is a collection of more than 120 pieces of game-inspired art.
But most importantly to its creator, Jon M. Gibson, it's proof that art does exist in gaming.
"This is my attempt at trying to create my own cultural movement of sorts," Gibson, an admitted Burger Time addict and video game journalist, said in a recent interview from his home near Los Angeles. "I just had this crazy idea and was (upset) that no one was doing anything with video game culture."
That frustration was the fuel behind a Hollywood art show that in turn inspired the book.
In 2005, Gibson and some friends organized an exhibition at the Gallery Nineteen Eight Eight despite having no experience piecing together a show.
But no one else was championing the cause, so Gibson, 23, took it upon himself to fill the vacuum. The book showcases the best pieces from that art show, as well as a few works from an upcoming show scheduled at the same gallery later this month.
"There wasn't anything," he said. "No one has focused on the truly cool, charismatic stuff, the '80s stuff.
"We had these wonderful characters like Mario, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Mario was composed with like 80 pixels, max. How do you interpret that? Anyway you want, that's what's so cool."
He said the co-owners of the gallery, who are also in their 20s, immediately embraced the idea.
The three set to work getting artist friends to create work for the show and trying to track down unknown artists for the same purpose.
The show opened April 19 to a crowd comprised of equal parts art connoisseurs and game aficionados, Gibson said.
"We didn't really know until the opening night what was really going to happen," he said. "I'd say about half of the people were people who had never stepped foot in an art gallery, let alone buy something in an art gallery - something that's going to look great on their wall so they can finally take down that Spiderman poster.
"The other half was very snooty, very judgmental."
Despite the oil-and-water mix of attendees, that show was a huge hit, with 70 to 80 percent of the pieces selling for $50 to $3,000.
And while the two very different groups seemed to have little in common outside the gallery, the art brought them together.
"It was cool to see them discuss the same pieces and share memories," Gibson said.
Like memories of a day playing Frogger.
Amanda Visell's piece shows a bright green frog resting at the bottom of the work, looking across an endless crisscrossing highway of blue, gray and white cars.
Or a summer wasted on Dig-Dug.
Blaine Fontana's work is a nearly four-foot tall painting of a bloated Dig Dug and two of his nemeses resting on top of a hole-riddled terrain.
Or the video game explosion that was Pac-Man.
Peter Gronquist took two training grenades and carved them into likenesses of the perpetually eating Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.
"It's so simple and yet so epic and deep and intense," Gibson said. "It's iconic."
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