Splitscreen deathmatches. Jewel CD cases littering the floor. An errant Mountain Dew can, crushed and discarded.
For many of us, these vignettes are powerful images; evoking a strong sense of nostalgia and bringing us back to summer afternoons spent sinking countless hours into our favourite games in a dark basement.
And yet, despite this common thread that runs through the memories of so many, these images rarely (if ever) have made it into the world of fine art. That is, until we came across artist Ryker Woodward, a talented painter and visual artist who takes our latent childhood memories of Halo and Counter-strike matches, and channels them into gorgeous works of art.
We had the chance to sit down with Ryker and talk about bringing those shared video game memories to life.
What first inspired you to start painting still lifes of nostalgic, video game vignettes like jewel CD cases and Halo splitscreen matches?
I first was looking for a way to connect my experiences playing video games to my studio practice of painting. I wanted to depict the early era of online gaming and one of the strengths of the era was their cooperative and social features.
I think a lot of people really connect to my work because of the shared experiences of playing online and meeting people while playing games. I liked the idea of using four paintings to make a single composition that would develop into the splitscreen artworks.
To make those pieces, I actually use the original games and hardware to compose a scene then paint directly from that. Gaming in the studio is a very crucial part of my painting process.
The way those splitscreen works landed with everyone was so surprising to me. The other representation of gaming I create from are the objects that we are naturally surrounded with as gamers. The ongoing series of game cases, controllers, and consoles is grounded in my own collection of games.
The paintings serve as reminders of how important physical media is and how fun it is to collect. I think there's an experience that is lost when you buy a game digitally.
Which other artists would you say are most influential to your work?
This is always a tough question for me. I look at so many artists since there’s just so much out there to experience online. The art history canon is very narrow in its scope once you become familiar with it.
I always just like finding people who have their own artistic voice that aren't really talked about. I take notes of everything and store bits and pieces that I find really interesting in an active archive of images from artists who stand out to me.
My main core group of friends all influence me the most, I’m super lucky to be surrounded by them and their creative minds. Someone I really enjoy is the game dev/artist Ville Kallio is someone who has a great vision. I think they are on the cutting edge of game design. I’m also really interested in their paintings/sculptural pieces. Their game Cruelty Squad basically rewired how I understand what a video game can be.
What would you say are your top games of all time, especially ones that you haven't had a chance to work into your art yet?
My favorite game of all time is Halo 3. Immediately after that on my list I think of Fallout New Vegas, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Sonic Adventure 2. There’s some really great games out there that I want to paint from like Gauntlet Legends, or some more FPS games like Unreal or Quake 3 Arena.
I've been looking at LAN party culture as a source of inspiration recently. There’s a lot of really rich subject matter that I have plans for working with like old machinima videos, eSports, and those crazy videos where it would be showing the prototypes for the xbox 720 or Wii 2.
That used to be everywhere on youtube and I think that imaginative excitement is really missing from gaming these days. YouTube is such a powerful driving force behind internet culture and gaming especially was transformed by it so there is more there that I want to draw from.
Are there any artists you would love to collaborate with one day, or other styles/mediums you would like to explore?
As far as new mediums go, I can see my work actually entering the digital spaces of games more than me picking up a new studio medium.
I’m already looking for a way to do a shareware version of my art as an homage to early PC games.
It would be pretty funny to release a whole gallery show on a floppy disk or mod a game to feature my works in a map where you can hangout or play deathmatch while there’s a virtual gallery opening. This all developed from me attempting to speed run a virtual show that my college had.
The one project I want to develop more than anything is having a gallery show be the venue for a LAN party with my paintings being shown. It’d be crazy to see the art world collide with gaming in that way.