Regardless of the medium, art exists at the intersection between passion and precision. Whether it's summoning the appropriate technique or implementing the proper tools, crafting a masterpiece is almost always an exercise in exactitude. Few mediums capture the profundity of art's dichotomous nature as potently as video games. As both an expression of passion and a product of technological innovation, video games occupy the center of a highly complex Venn diagram. Through his series of Gameboy-inspired pieces, artist Connor Gottfried hopes to elevate video games to the realm of high art. "It's surprising that there hasn't really been a lot of fine art in the video game sector, especially retro games," says Gottfried. "[The Gameboy] is a universal image, and so it's a good starting point for people to connect with the art."
They say you can see an artist in their work, and Gottfried's fun-loving personality radiates from his Gameboy pieces almost as vibrantly as the classic games their LCD screens showcase. Similar to the technology upon which his work is based, Gottfried's Gameboy replicas, often composed with visible circuitry, are hybrid works that fuse various mediums and materials to bring his vision to life. "I like to blow up the pieces and expose the circuits because I feel like it draws attention to the work of the industrial designers and the people who crafted the games and crafted these systems," says Gottfried. "So, when I see [the Gameboy], I feel like I connect with[the engineers] and their hard work, slaving over their computers or their drawing boards."
If Gottfried's reverence for engineering sounds atypical for an artist, it's probably because he never imagined himself as one. "I kind of stumbled into it," says Gottfried, recalling his journey as a creative. "When I look back, I see all of the pieces were there. Like, you know, when I was eleven years old, I used to make paper snowboards…I would make the little bindings out of paper and glue."
As he entered his teens, Gottfried's exposure to creativity broadened through his tenure in a punk band. The lessons of radical self-expression and independence Gottfried learned from the punk scene proved indispensable to his perspective and process as a visual artist. "What I like about this approach is that I can tile and produce these pieces at home without having to go out and spend a bunch of money and engage with some corporation," says Gottfried. "I'm a punk rocker; this is DIY. It just feels better."
The DIY ethos that Gottfried touts proudly has proven to be more than a slogan, as he began his art career without a specific direction or formal training. "I think it was 2016, where I kinda was like, ' I wanna make some large-scale art pieces,'" says Gottfried. "I had all these canvases…and one day, I just started pouring paint on them and scraping them because I'm not that good with a brush."
As he continued to follow his muse, Gottfried's creative impulse began to expand with each project. "It was sort of a series of first introducing screens, and in my earlier work working with LEDs," says Gottfried. "And then I had this idea of making one that was more of like the Game & Watch piece, and then from there, I made a few that were more reproductions of traditional Gameboys with the circuits exposed."
One could easily chalk up the artist's fascination with retro gaming to simple nostalgia, but Gottfried believes his work speaks to a previously unexamined aspect of technology. "I think the concept of obsolescence and death and the reverse of obsolescence, something coming back into use, is really interesting," says Gottfried. "Like, we don't even have a word for the opposite of obsolescence. We sort of see obsolescence as a one-way path."
"But, you know, [old technology] sort of is coming back," continues Gottfried. "Vinyl sort of happened, and with these retro game systems, I think it's really interesting to revisit some of the things we've left behind."
Although Gottfried is cognizant of how unique his Gameboy art is, he also believes that his approach and perspective speak to a common feeling shared by Generation X and millennials. "The previous generation might have been more interested in the moon landing," says Gottfried. "I think our generation now, we're becoming older and more in positions where you might make art, or maybe you write articles, or you might make other media about . They're the things that interested us."
Outside of the subject matter of his work, Gottfried finds himself infinitely interested in the overlap between his process and the creation of classic gaming consoles. "Working within constraints is something I always found interesting with creativity," says Gottfried. "For me, working within the constraint of making it sort of like a Gameboy each time, but really twisting it each time…it almost gives you wings when you kind of have restrictions."
"I feel like that's sort of what [game developers] were dealing with back then, too," elaborates Gottfried. "They had such restrictions on their RAM and their sound-producing capabilities, so they really had to get creative to make a game super interesting with a great soundtrack."
And while Gottfried enjoys making connections with himself and early game developers, he's ultimately hopeful that his work will allow observers to connect with their inner child. "I put embedded games in there because A.) they go with the Gameboy, but it also engages people with the artwork," says Gottfried. "They come up and want to play with it. So, it's sort of like activating their different neural pathways rather than just looking at the art."