Johan Löfgren is a Swedish artist who has been experimenting with videogames for the past ten years. Born in 1972, Löfgren has created eclectic works such as "from bits to pieces" (2002-2007) and "neo-arcade" (2008), which remediate the retro-aesthetic of pixel art and early computers/consoles. In April 2010, Mathias Jansson talked with Johan about the state-of-Game-Art in Sweden.
GameScenes: Several artists who experimented with videogames, like yourself, were born in the 1970s, and belong to what has been called “the videogame generation”. In that decade, videogames "invaded" the media landscape – actually, they create brand new landscape, a new visual language, a new form of art. What did you find remarkable in this medium, so remarkable that you decided to use it to create art?
Johan Löfgren: Recently I visited the national portrait gallery at Gripsholm Castle and took the guided tour, when the guide announced:
-And there we have Richard III of England!
-It's impossible he is so still and 2-dimensional almost flat, it must be a painting, I stated.
In our culture we see a painted portrait as a true representation of a historical person and we have learned over the centuries to accept painting as a proxy of reality. Those who grew up in late '70s and mid '80s consumed vast amount of abstract iconic graphics playing Atari 2600 games like Space Invaders or arcade games like Asteroids. We accepted a vectorised triangle as a spaceship or a yellow circle with a pizza slice missing as "Pac-Man". When I began to create paintings I used Dan Silva's DeLuxPaint back inthe early '80s and I'm still using software to develop my ideas and content -it has become my crayons.
GameScenes: The pixel is the quintessential element in your artistic production. What do you find so fascinating about pixels?
Johan Löfgren: In a philosophical sense, I am breaking down the view into smaller but more visual pieces. However I think of it as creating something from scratch. My work is about "constructing", as in the opposite of "de-constructing". Sampling retro video games has never been my thing... The area of photoreceptors in the back of my eyes is to hardly etch by it and the cerebral cortex too damaged. I like to connect different thought and content from the past and visions of the future in my work.
GameScenes: What was the rationale behind “Sketchbook of the Neo-arcade”?
Johan Löfgren: Neo-Arcade gave me the chance to revisit monochrome marble statues in a novel way. I basically repainted them. Reconnecting with the addictive light that flooded my eyes in the video-arcades. And the layers of meaning in the word Arcade was igniting my imagination to me when I was recording my own screen drawings. A pixel journal of what happened when the multi-colored lines sprouted out over the surface, a moving option for the final still-frame.
GameScenes: Is there any differences between creating a picture on a computer screen or on a canvas?
Johan Löfgren: Not really, it sprung out of the same source -just reflecting the ideas of the Big Brush in the sky ;) My analog paintings were heavily inspired by my digital works in the sense of looks and finish but in the going back and fourth between the disciplines I have strived to make my analog painting more "human" and the digital more machinelike. It’s no longer a problem for me to discover a hair from the brush in the dried paint on the squared-out canvas. I now accept that it is a different environment.
GameScenes: What is the meaning of your color palette?
Johan Löfgren: When I grew up additive colours coming from small lamps in the screen was to me more appealing to me than the sunlight. A painting and its depending on a light source is not that appealing to me. The first time I CMYKed my RGB pics I was devastated of the loss in colour range/depth. I felt that after the printing press was done it was not much left of the original energy.
Any work by Shigeru Miyamoto, "the father of modern video games," has inspired me greatly, color-wise. And John F. Simon, JR. and his work with LCD-panels is work that my mind comes coming back.
GameScenes: How would you define the current status of Game Art in Sweden?
Johan Löfgren: It has struck me as odd since my days in art school to know that the majority of the painters felt more connected to the work of Caravaggio or Piero della Francesca than the work of, let's say, companies like Namco or Nintendo. I understand the fascination of the unique mark of the human hand and the total massive imprint that the nature can have for a creative mind. I'm as well inspired by the "calligraphy of the hand". But to turn away from the screen in these days and say it’s not a medium of content or a carrier of the human thought that’s to me highly remarkable.
Link: Johan Löfgren
Text: Mathias Jansson
Related: GameArtWorlds: The Early Years