Nintendo nostalgia leaps beyond the arcade

By OTIS HART, Associated Press (ASAP) © April 3, 2006 Super Mario has rescued princesses for over 20 years now, on TVs and big screens, in bits and gigs, on coin-ops and handhelds.
Now the stout man with the impeccable mustache makes perhaps his most memorable leap yet: to the coffee table. And he's bringing Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Q-Bert with him.

Jon Gibson's new book, "i am 8-bit" (Chronicle Books, $22.95) collects the best video game art from 2005's exhibition of the same name. The show at Los Angeles' Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight showcased over 100 artists who long ago forged their own nascent identities by controlling the fates of others. And with the Nintendo Entertainment System turning 20 last year, it was the perfect time to reflect on life after Space Invasion.
Nostalgia became NEStalgia.

See the complete Pilot, exactly as in print - View stories, photos and ads - E-mail clippings - Print copies Log in or learn more Pixels were the vessel of choice, but iconic characters like Mario or Kong quickly grew too immense for their two-dimensional environment. They quickly took root in the imagination of young America, shedding their skins of ones and zeros and taking on the personality of their hosts.
After gestating in the frontal lobe for almost two decades, these larger-than-life heroes and villains found a portal back to the real world through Gibson in 2004.
Then just 21, Gibson, who owns an actual arcade version of the 1982 hit "Burger Time," approached Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight about curating a show that focused on classic video games. The art space loved the idea and the two parties went about finding artists in the L.A. area and on the Internet at MySpace and Friendster.
Gibson earns his living as a script writer for cartoons on Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network and Disney, so he already knew the animator circuit. Faster than you could say "Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start," "8-bit" was on.
"We figured iconic images would be key, but, like Greg Simkins especially, they went balls out with the memories," Gibson said. "They really locked into what we hoped for. Games really mean a lot to a lot of these artists."
Simkins painted what many considered the exhibition's centerpiece, "Pac-Man in Hospice," featuring our yellow friend in a wheelchair with an IV full of white balls. That painting is included in the book of "i am 8-bit," along with dozens of other pieces varying from found art to plush toys.
Gibson took home only one painting from the initial show -- Jose Emroca Flores' "The M.K.," a glorious portrait of Mario and his princess resting on a series of floating bricks after a tough day fighting Goombas, Koopa Troopas and his nemesis, Bowser.
"Jose does concept art for 'Medal of Honor' for EA, and the stuff he does is amazing, but you never see it because he's behind the scenes working the magic," Gibson said. "But having those kind of guys contributing to a gallery is awesome because they really can paint, but rarely do they get the opportunity. Typically the gallery scene is dominated by a very select group of people, and to break away from that and do something different, it was a special thing."
This year's "i am 8-bit" runs from April 18-May 19 at Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight in Los Angeles, and will feature an extravagant premiere party. Visit http://www.iam8bit.net/ for more information.

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