When Pac-Man Was God

(Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan)

Video games themselves may rarely aspire to meaningful art, but that doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally inspire it. If you were among the throngs of hipsters, artists and game designers who stopped by the “I Am 8-Bit” group art show at Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight this past May, you got a good taste of just how much inspiration a little ’80s-video-game nostalgia can pack. Featuring works from more than a hundred painters, illustrators, sculptors and new-media artists from around the globe — not to mention a modded-out version of Guitar Hero with the Mega Man theme and a performance by 8-Bit Weapon, a band that uses vintage consoles as musical instruments — the 2006 iteration managed to garner even more attention than the first 8-Bit installment. And, from the looks of it, things are just getting started.

As the brainchild of Jon Gibson, a writer and fellow video-game fanatic, I Am 8-Bit has evolved beyond the art-show confines into something of an artistic empire. For this year’s exhibit, Gibson launched a T-shirt label to wick away all that retro-video-game sweat and also helped author a coffee-table tome (published by Chronicle Books) that highlighted much of the show’s artwork. And with a forward penned by Chuck Klosterman — the poster boy of pop-culture commentary — it would appear that video-game art has officially arrived with at least some semblance of legitimacy.

For those who missed this year’s show, there was a bit of everything: dark explorations of that yellow-dot-chomping duo, Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man, such as Dennis Larkin’s Playing the Nuclear Option, which depicted the two initiating World War III. Also on display were Peter Gronquist’s wonderful wedge-shaped Pac-Man hand grenades (carved out of real grenades!), as well as Sean Clarity’s cubist reinterpretation of Excitebike. Young artists have always been inspired by the minutiae of their surroundings. It now seems only logical that the generation that grew up tethered to gaming consoles would emerge with various tributes and testimonies to their pixelated pasts.

I Am 8-Bit

Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight


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