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Visual Arts

Passion play

Arcade stars ‘byte’ their way into the art world via an exhibition that pays homage to classic video games.

Louis Fowler August 7th, 2013

Art of Bits/Bits of Art
noon-10 p.m. Saturday
through Sept. 28
Istvan Gallery
1218 N. Western

A, B, A, B, B, A, up, down, up, down, select.

If that means anything to you, you’re the exact type of patron who Stephen Kovash, the founder of the Istvan Gallery, wants.

“The Istvan is one of the few commercial galleries in Oklahoma City that actually show urban, street, young people, hip — whatever the right word is — sort of nontraditional artwork,” Kovash said. “I want to show the work that interests me and that I think will be interesting to people — something they haven’t seen before.”

His commitment to this cutting-edge ideal gave co-curator Josh Heilaman, the inspiration for Art of Bits/Bits of Art, which starts Saturday and runs (and jumps and blocks) through Sept. 28. Covering everything from the Atari age to the PlayStation period, the exhibition focuses on the impact video games have made in the art world.

“The idea is based in paying homage to classic video games, because they are so much more than just something to pass the time,” said Heilaman, an artist and gamer himself. “Video games have grown into something that is a part of our lives, especially those of us who grew up with them. The art from the games, the music from the games, have affected every level of our society.”

Josh Reynolds’ Castlevania
His love of old-school gaming is evident in his own submitted artwork, inspired by the Nintendo cartridge Mega Man 2, which, despite its primitiveness, was actually ahead of its time when released in 1988. That same classic simplicity drew artist Angela Westerman to apply her surrealist style on the ultimate arcade icon, Pac-Man.

“I normally explore darker themes with my work, so part of the appeal of getting involved with this was the opportunity to do something more lighthearted,” Westerman said. “I grew up with Atari and so it was an opportunity to something out-of-the-box for me. I had a lot of fun with it.”

Besides works from about 40 artists on display, the Art of Bits/Bits of Art opening festivities will include live “8-bit jams” from local DJs and musicians, as well as gaming competitions and demos. For hardcore gamers and passive players alike, Heilaman believes visitors will feel like they are reconnecting with old friends.

“Best as I could tell, nothing like this has ever happened in Oklahoma City,” he said. “I feel like there’s a great number of video game players here, and hopefully, a sense of nostalgia will come across for them. I think that walking through the gallery and viewing the art is going to be like looking through an old family photo album for them.”

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