Mario Kart races to the canvas


Attendees examine artwork displayed at the Game Over 4 group art show's reception held at Giant Robot located in the Upper Haight on Friday, Mar. 4. Sandy Ha / staff photographer

As the cliche goes you only have one life to live, but that does not apply to video games like Super Mario Brothers or Duck Hunt. Now, even art fans can fully appreciate the omnipresence of gaming.

On March 4, Giant Robot, the magazine franchise-turned-boutique in the Upper Haight, curated a show titled “Game Over IV,” an art exhibit dedicated purely to video games and gaming culture. The exhibit included a wide range of pieces, from the concrete to the abstract, all while playing on inspirations ranging from Bomberman to Mario Kart.

“I love games and I love art,” said Jesse Balmer, independent game developer and participating artist. “As a video game lover and an artist, I felt like ‘how could I not love this?’”

Balmer explained how he had based his piece on Chrono Trigger, a classic 1995 role-playing game originally released for the Super Nintendo System, because he wanted his art to stand out conceptually.

“I wanted to do something classy, maybe something a little more obscure than some of the new stuff that people would no doubt choose from,” Balmer said.

The boutique was packed with people, bright colors and cheery backgrounds reminiscent of the 8-bit graphics of early console games. The exhibit became so crowded that making one’s way through the small display room often proved difficult.

Giant Robot originally started as a magazine dedicated to Asian-American pop culture. In 2001, Giant Robot opened its first boutique catering to fans of video games, anime, and other Asian toys and nick-knacks. Every month, the two stores, based in San Francisco and Los Angeles, hosted themed art shows.

Co-curator Michelle Borok felt that video games were a good fit for the show.

“It’s a product which involves art and is something which passes through almost each and every last living room,” she said.

Borok said her favorite part of the process was the fans that the show brought in and the light-hearted fun that was represented on the canvases. Game Over IV was one of the most popular shows to date, according to Borok, due possibly in part to the fact that it coincided with the SF Game Developers Conference that ended the same day her show opened.

Ken Taya, an artist whose moniker is Enfu, created a light box art piece that highlighted almost every rhythm party game mentionable including “Guitar Hero,” “Dance Dance Revolution,” and even “Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.”

“Video games are fun, pure and simple, no caveats about it,” Taya said. “The video game industry, which was small in the relative past, is now booming, and artists play a large part of that specific movement.”

Graham Mison represented the mixture of art and video game fan, saying that the show really took him back to the good-old days.

“It’s a really cool variety of artists,” he said. “There’s the nostalgic feeling you get from your childhood, even taking pictures from youth and re-appropriating them.”

The video game exhibit, one of their most popular displays, will remain open through the end of March. Next month’s exhibit will involve a group of artists working with eight-inch square wood panels.

Beau Blyth, another spectator at the video game exhibit, said it was the anticipation for the event that kept him coming year after year. Blyth said the fact that they only have it once a year makes it special. In addition to the GDC, Blyth felt this was a great time for the exhibit.

“It’s the time of the year to get together with fellow people for video games, talk about video games, and live video games,” he said.

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