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Charmander by Lindsey Hart

Charmander by Lindsey Hart

In a purposely half-lit, gray room with red flooring, a framed watercolor picture of a Charmander hangs on the wall. But this isn’t just any happy-go-lucky image of the beloved Pokémon; this Charmander, wearing a yellow beanie cap against a multi-colored, dotted backdrop, is holding a marijuana joint to its mouth and using its own tail to light it. Hilarious? Yes. Mature? Perhaps. Creative? Absolutely. This is Nintendo fan art, Detroit-style.

On December 2, 2017, the Phoenix Cafe in Hazel Park, Michigan, hosted a Nintendo-themed art opening where Detroit-area artists displayed works inspired by the video gaming giant’s many consoles and franchises.

It was the latest themed art exhibition for the two-roomed space, which also doubled as a live music venue, and it celebrated everything video games. In the lounge, classic arcade games could be played on a 40″ tube television set, while in the main room, guests tested their skills on a PlayStation 3 running Street Fighter IV or on an Xbox that had been modified to play emulated titles such as Smash TV. Even the music was theme-appropriate as DJ Dos Lopez spun thumping, chiptune-inspired beats throughout the night.

The Nintendo Art Show bringing Nintendo and video game fans together.

Later in the evening, a costume contest and Super Smash Bros. tournament were held, and the competition was fierce for both. The M. Bison (of Street Fighter) and Antoine D’Coolette (of Sonic the Hedgehog comic series) costumes, in particular, were standouts, displaying an impressive attention to detail and dedication to the characters.

@caydebug from Tumblr (cosplayed as Antoine D’Coolette)

@caydebug from Tumblr (cosplayed as Antoine D’Coolette)

Kaiju Yoshi from YouTube (cosplayed as M. Bison)

Kaiju Yoshi from YouTube (cosplayed as M. Bison)

DJ Dos Lopez (cosplayed as D.Va)

DJ Dos Lopez (cosplayed as D.Va)

And, of course, there was the viewing and appreciation of the art itself.

The aforementioned blazing Charmander by artist Lindsey Hart was joined by another watercolor of hers: Pikachu. In it, the electric-type Pokémon wasn’t doing anything overtly questionable, but the swirling, black, blue, and purple background certainly hinted at something more ominous and (ahem) ghastly. Similarly unsettling (in a good way) was Ashley Gaa’s Melting series where the half-faces of two different-but-similar characters drip off a single skull.

In contrast, the offerings of an artist known only as mushabear were much more light-hearted with The Roost Café, Autumn Afternoon, and Pocket Camp. The last one was of particular interest because it was based upon Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, a mobile game that had been released a mere two weeks prior to the event.

Jamie Crystal Taperek created a series of images focusing on Nintendo entertainment controllers from the NES and SNES onward, as well as the handheld Game Boy system, while Kyle Irving depicted crossed twin NES Zappers in a clever 2D wall plaque that proudly proclaimed “8-Bit Legend”. On the other hand, Kelly LeAnne focused solely on the iconic NES controller with the visually multi-textured Under Control.

The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario series were also well represented.

Nintendo art by local artists of Metro Detroit displayed at the Phoenix Cafe

Link, the hero of Hyrule, appeared as an literal and figurative action figure, as well as in a dichotomous picture of him and Ganondorf, while Metroid heroine Samus Aran was shown in two otherworldly portraits. Princess Peach also received the portrait treatment in the refreshingly dour Peach by Misty Bondy, showing the oft-kidnapped Mushroom Kingdom royal more as a person than just a love interest waiting to be rescued. In the meantime, Jes Ugolini’s Piece of My Heart (Zelda) rendered the titular item between two tattooed hands, and whether or not Zelda was giving it to Link or you, the viewer, was up to you to decide.

Another Game Over by Elaine Litton

Another Game Over by Elaine Litton

Finally, there was “Another Game Over”, which was almost completely overlooked due to the curious fact that it was not placed next to the other artwork. (My colleague had not seen it either until I pointed it out to him.) It’s a shame about the odd location because Elaine Litton’s piece was easily the most non-traditional of the show, depicting four Super Mario baddies not on a standard rectangular canvas like everything else but on the front of an orange tool apron. It’s deceptively simple, but it’s a perfect fit and could easily have been a product prototype aimed at gamers who grew up with the NES and SNES and are now cooking and using heavy tools. (Nintendo, take note.)

This showcase of creativity was one of the hallmarks of the Phoenix Cafe, which had previously done themed art shows centering around Godzilla, Batman, dollars bills, graffiti, pin-up, horror, and burlesque. The Phoenix, as it is sometimes called, served as an open space that existed to bring people together and foster talent in the community, and it had done so since the summer of 2009. Sadly, that all changes in its current form with the closing of the cafe by Christmas, but like the massive mural on the side of the building says, “We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.” The creative community that was built here will live on.

It’s not Game Over yet.


About Chris Jackson - Editor & Writer

A lifelong Nintendo fan and lover of anime who hopes to publish a book one day

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