Passion play 

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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Louis Fowler

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