(never) seen on the PC screen: the visual culture of video game
designers. Introducing Ceolin’s GamePeople.
Ceolin is the Italian answer to pop-art powerhouses such
as Takashi Murakami and Julian Opie. Oh yeah, baby. Superflat
is “tired”. Ultraflat is “wired”. Ceolin, aka “popular culture
enters the video game arena”. The ‘flatness’ of his portraits
evokes the two dimensionality of the game characters in
the age of cell shading. If Warhol gave Pop Art a
soul, Mauro Ceolin gave Will Wright an aura. And if Andy
Warhol glorified Marilyn Monroe, Mauro Ceolin transformed
Richard Garriott into a rock star. After all, game designers
are the pop icons/idols of postmodern times. The paradox,
however, is that although video games are our new mythologies,
their creators are depicted by Ceolin as ordinary beings,
not as charismatic semi-Gods. The portrait of the artist
as a game designer.
People (2002-2004) is an ongoing series of portraits of
game creators who have helped to redefine video games in
the last thirty years. Ceolin’s works defy complexity. His
images are full of youthful and comics-like energy. His
aesthetics rely on pastel colours, opaque and solid, simple yet intriguing. His
style rejects the illusion of depth and perspective.
Forget overlapping layers: Ceolin’s GamePeople
and strictly plain. He fuses the material and the immaterial,
the real world and the game (ever expanding) universe. Ceolin
uses Flash technology to generate the game designers’ replica.
His portraits are a tribute to the world of virtual illusions.
There is no ironic detachment here. Rather, sincere admiration.
draws inspiration, ideas, and imagery from game aesthetics and
iconographies. His style of portraiture is direct and disarming,
often misunderstood, sometimes even naively dismissed, a fate
common to many great works of art. The portraits – the consistently
limited colour pattern, the simplicity of the subjects’ appearance
- remind me a little bit of Alex Katz’s oeuvre. But while Katz's
paintings illustrate a very small, intimate circle – that is,
his wife, Ada, son, Vincent, and friends - Ceolin’s chooses some
of the world’s most influential fantasy makers. In other words,
Ceolin speaks to the world through the ‘worlds makers’ (see Richard
Garriott’s motto). Ceolin’s interdisciplinary approach to art
culls from the ever expanding popularity of game characters, but
also addresses the role of their creators in the age of peer-to-peer
and “free” downloads. More importantly, he maintains a distinct
cultural autonomy. He cannot be easily labelled and framed. He
is fluid, just like a game character. He captures the flag, i.e.
the aesthetics of the technological age like no one else, yet
refuses the eye candy style of Murakami’s anime pictures.
his paintings, game creators and game characters occupy
the same plane of (hyper)reality. Wright, a post-modern
Robinson Crusoe, holds a Sim in the palm of his hand. Sometimes
the game designer is smaller than the creature he has
designed. Fumito Ueda and Ico are juxtaposed. Shigeru Miyamoto
draws Super Mario on paper but seems unaware that his
creation is looking at him behindhis back. Miyamoto
- Ceolin seems
to besuggesting - exists just because of Mario and not vice
versa. Mutual look, the game gaze lostin Pac-Man’s maze.
Ceolin challenges us to see any portrait
not as a definitive version of an essential human being
but rather as a representation of selected attributes (whether
physical or symbolic, media-created or “real”) that have
been edited and constructed to tell one of countless possible
fascinating aspect of Ceolin’s portraits is the consistently limited
palette, the Pepto-bismol pink and white and most of all the ubiquitous
green backgrounds. No surprises here: green is inextricably linked
to the ludic dimension. It evokes the card tables, pool table
felt, football and soccer fields and bowling greens. It is also
the colour of money – and video games is exactly where the money
is today. And let’s not forget the so-called “green room” where
TV performers and guest go to relax…
work can also be read as a revival of the American paint-by-numbers
craze of the Fifties and Sixties. The homage is even clearer in
his landscape series, which imitates the design of game environments.
Once derided, paint by numbers canvases are increasing collected
by a small number of discerning connoisseurs in the United States.
A kind of folk/pop art phenomenon. One might be tempted to see
a connection between a mass produced product, namely paint-by-numbers
kits which gave its consumers the illusion of creativity and the
societal function of certain computer and video games.
In the early '60s, Roy Lichtenstein transferred comics into canvas.
Today, Mauro Ceolin relocated videogames onto a different screen.
Ceolin, like Murakami, celebrates popular culture rather than
condemning it. He realized long time ago that that contemporary
art is irrelevant to the vast majority of people, while video
game speak a global language. Playstation is the new Esperanto.
Nintendo is the world’s currency.
Each portrait begins with a photograph of a game artist, usually
found on the net. Google, the modern oracle, gives artist clues
and hints about what really matters. The artist’s role is to reinterpret
that evidence, giving it a new meaning. The photographic image
is reproduced by Ceolin with the aid of an electronic pen and
altered with software (Flash) that hones in on its graphic essentials.
The screen is his canvas, the mouse is brush. The result? Colour
saturated images that are disconcerting and attractive, clear
and ambiguous. Like video games, his art combines aspects of both
abstraction and representation.
In a sense, the GamePeople series is a simulation of portraits.
(2003 © Matteo Bittanti. All right reserved.)