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Fantasy Art and Comics: ARTworks at Common Street Arts, Waterville, Maine

Vigistry's ARTworks at CSA


ARTworks at Common Street Arts in Waterville, Maine, was an annual gallery show that ran from 2012 to 2014. Dozens of local artists of all calibers and backgrounds would submit up to three miniature works culminating in a grand display of style and imagination. Its receptions packed wall to wall, this was one of Common Street Arts' biggest fundraisers of the year. Somehow I missed its spearhead event but by 2013 I saw a chance to explore new areas of my craft and start some fun conversations, and ARTworks became one of my favorite shows to participate in.

Hand-drawn Commodore 64 sprites
A Commodore 64 revival! Enlarge

“POKE53248: the Abandoned Art”

We start with something really unusual: a forgotten art that no one does anymore but I used to as a kid. 1985 was a prolific year for me as a budding illustrator, and my subject matter of choice was any kid's favorite: dinosaurs. I worked to perfect the regal, upright stature of the T-rex. (Yes, although dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years, they were still evolving in picture books throughout the 80's!) Come 1986, though, the crayons, colored pencils, and drawing as I knew it nearly went extinct as well. What caused this hiatus? Well, as any kid could attest to, the next big video game system had a part in it, although I didn't use it to play my days away like with the old Atari. No, this was the era of the Commodore 64.

What a wonderful little computer. No loading time, no software needed. Turn it on and start writing code because it was READY! The C64 handbook had little sample programs to type in; one involved this thing called a sprite. I was amazed! Just when I started rocking the ASCII art, here's this little thing on my screen defying every understanding I had about the system (Granted, it had only been a week). It didn't behave like text: it overlapped characters, resisted the flow of a list command, and moved so gracefully unlike that clunky ASCII animation. I learned about POKE, the C64's execution statement; it told the computer to do things at the given memory block. 53248 was the first memory block to handle the range of sprite attributes, controlling the x position of sprite number one. But the heart of the code was the many DATA lines, sums of eight key numbers valued at double their predecessor. Binary-to-numeric conversion: art and math hand-in-hand!

I still liked dinosaurs but in 1986, I didn't necessarily improve on T-rex. Rather, I hopped to a different plane of creativity where sketches and doodles were obsolete, replaced by this new rasterization method. I became a programmer; my homemade games needed sprites, and every animation called for many sprite variations. Lots of pictures were drawn on graph paper, single-colored, in a 24 x 21 grid. I remember using orange a lot, probably a marker I just had handy at the time. In "POKE53248: the Abandoned Art", each handwritten number can be referenced by associating the formation of orange squares per line per column with the numbers in the binary chart, then adding them up. Back in the day this was quite an undertaking; much of it was done with a calculator until the patterns were memorized. The binary chart and data list were natural components to every one of my sprite drawings; they were part of the art. Some grand works consisted of up to eight puzzle-piece sprites with textwalls of data to be keyed in later. These hard-copy sprites could have filled a binder, but this forgotten art really only lasted about a year. Eventually I wised up and wrote a program to calculate the data automatically— to be keyed in later. Yes, life before copy and paste was a primitive one. In later years, spriting was done on editors with no data to be seen, like Byakhee, photographed in 1990.

Aside from spriting for art's sake, I made about a dozen games in a five-year period. The very first ones were science fiction side-scrollers, so the middle panel harkens to that. I also have fond memories of my "Marine World" game. True, non-gravity environments were easy to program! When RPGs became the craze, my games started exceeding the C64's RAM so I dropped programming altogether, an alternate hibernation that would last fifteen years.

Rasters were a grand but lost civilization of my artistic history. Like many things from childhood, the grid sheets became just more scrap paper. Too bad, they would have made an interesting gallery, which is why I remastered these for ARTworks 2013. Although I can't remember exactly what my age-eleven dinosaur drawings looked like, the 8-bit dinos shown here would be an accurate representation at age twelve. And incidentally, when resuming illustration as a senior in high school, I might as well have picked up from 1985!

BOOBS! Enlarge

“Knotty Knotty”

The theme of ARTworks 2014 was that all canvases were provided in the form of 6 x 6 wood panels. What the artists did with them was up to their unbridled creativity. I don't recall anyone linking my sprite drawings back to me, but these paintings were greatly recognized— although it really isn't my style to cover a canvas with a single boob. I am known for my erotic fantasy scenes, but these acrylic paintings weren't intended to be as superficial.

A controversial poster design for PechaKucha Waterville tells most of the story and set the stage for this little example of rebellion. The design was innocent, but not according to some powers-that-be in the art circle. Coincidentally, a new organization called Waterville Creates was born and started promoting a new attitude of art appreciation and openness for the city. This being a small town where figureheads overlap, particularly with Waterville Creates and PechaKucha, it made me wonder about this unfair censorship and just how political our public art was getting. (Waterville Creates had already absorbed the now extinct— yes, now extinct Waterville Arts Fest, commandeered the CSA gallery during production of these paintings, and went on to absorb PechaKucha as well.) With this new regime underway, "Knotty Knotty" was a statement to the over-analyzers whose minds immediately go into the gutter in terms of my work. If you're looking for something suggestive, I put little subtlety into these abstracts of negative space and wood knots, so enjoy! It goes to show that art can be a catalyst, a reaction, and a reaction to a reaction.

I fashioned these paintings with my three comic girls in mind. "Tan" represents Bluette's bikini as she's the type who would flaunt those "oops" moments. "Lace" is reminiscent of Celest's lingerie, and "Whip" is a tribute to Centura's leather and chains. Of the set, only "Tan" sold during the gallery show. As I understand it, the buyer happily exclaimed how she "bought one of Brian's boobs!" Funny how even with faceless, non-informative representations of my girls, Bluette won out over the other two.

With that, ARTworks had come to an end. Ironically, CSA's new owners, Waterville Creates, pulled the plug on it having no idea of the show's existence. Two years later, however, the arts organization, under a new staff, started to shape up. And there's no need to bring back ARTworks; the beloved concept was adopted by The Framemakers gallery under the name, the "Block Party."