Mega Man As Art: Echo Park gallery pays tribute to video game nostalgia

Story and Photos by Nathan Solis

With the opening of  “Entertainment System” last Friday, the Echo Park gallery space iam8bit  celebrates the home video game console and all the characters that it has spawned over the decades. It was a colorful show and a thrilling opening night, with hundreds of adults who dived into a Scrooge McDuck money pit with wide smiles across their faces.

“Mega Man was stupid,”  shouted one of two men standing before a painting by Dadu Shin.  “No way,” the other man responded.  “He was an android before it legit.” They argue over a 30-year old game, and it’s all fresh in the air as everyone seems to experience a flashback to their childhood.

This is the generation who grew up with video games and who now, as adults and freshly minted patrons, swoon over this form of pop art. Over 80 artists’ works are on display at the Sunset Boulevard gallery, where past video game characters were reinterpreting in a number of styles.

John M. Gibson, co-owner of iam8bit, stood in a sea of people. He asked if he looked nervous as he stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. The main showroom felt like an arcade, poorly lit, loud with noises and flashing lights.

Gibson uses the term “yesteryear” because all the paintings and sculptures, the installations and art, are reminders of a childhood in 1980s America, the first decade when the home video game console began to become a mainstream purchase for families. Through this show Gibson is trying to catch that same feeling.

“Go to an art gallery, see art on the walls, come to our place and you don’t know what to expect,” said Gibson, who wants iam8bit to be more than a gallery – a sort of science museum tinged with interaction and art.

Artist David Harlan stood before a realistic landscape he painted, dotted with icons from the Super Mario Bros. game. He says he “tried to push away from video game content in the painting. It’s sort of rendered in a different way, but keeping familiar iconography.”

There’s Jude Buffum who is passing out porno cards, the type you would receive when walking the streets of Las Vegas, but on the cards are his illustrations of video game heroines who have carefully placed censors over their bodies. He hopes it will start a conversation about women in video games and how these fantasies grow darker as video gamers get older.

But what of the people who didn’t grow up with video games? Who don’t have that well of nostalgia to draw on at the gallery?

One such person is Miggie Wong, a performance artist, who stands off to the side as others gleefully rush by and point out the colorful paintings. She smiles and nods at the work.

“I recognize some of the characters,” said Wong. “I’m a fine arts artist, so I do see the attraction, the art in this exhibit. I’m only here for my friend who is crazy about video games.”

“Entertainment System” is on display through June 30.

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.

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