Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Artist of the Week

Jude Buffum

Jude Buffum is better know as the beard-sporting half of Philadelphia-based design and illustration duo Headcase Design, whose work has been featured in publications such as Graphics, Communication Arts, Print, and American Illustration, among others. They designed and illustrated the best-selling book The Baby Owner's Manual for Quirk Books, and have designed books for such pop-culture phenomena as the Broadway show "Wicked" and HBO's "The Sopranos".

In addition to the collaborative work he has done with Paul Kepple at Headcase, Jude has also forged his own style of painting inspired by the pixelated 8-bit graphics of classic video games, and created a line of pixelated plush toys called " BiTZ" with his wife Amy.

Having spent many hours manipulating these pixels around as a child, I was immediately drawn to Jude's work and had to find out more about the process behind these wonderful pieces.

Orange Alert (OA): How would you define your work?
Jude Buffum (JB): I see it as an exploration of video game language and symbolism as an avenue toward social commentary. A study in digital mythology, if you will, for understanding how we’ve gotten to this point, and where we might be headed. Though I started out doing “parody” pieces (that involved existing game characters) I have been slowly moving away from those into more original works that still retain the conceptual elements that I feel are so interesting.

In the sense that my work is informed by a pop culture influence like 8-bit video games, I guess to an art critic it might fall under the ever-expanding umbrella of the new Lowbrow movement. I like to use the phrase “Synthetic Paintings for an Increasingly Artificial World” because they are first created in the digital realm before they become tangible pieces of art.

OA: I enjoy your Nintendo vs politics pieces, where did the concept for these pieces originate?
JB: In March of 2004 I was at a classic gaming convention and came upon these Atari paintings by a young artist named Aimee Dingman. They were just renderings of Atari characters, but I was immediately struck by their graphic simplicity and the warm wave of nostalgia that washed over me. Around the same time I had been venting my political frustrations through my graphic design, but there were a lot of other people doing that, and frankly I was growing a little weary of Hitler moustaches photoshopped onto Bush. I was searching for a more original way to strike back. It was then I realized these megalomaniacal people running our country into the ground had actually surpassed the evil 8-bit villains I’d battled in my youth. Megaman needed to stop wasting his time on a two-bit thug like Dr. Wily and take out a real supervillain like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney.

OA: Where does computer generated art "fit in" to the current day art community?
JB: I think it’s just another tool, like paint or clay or the camera obscura. What’s important is if it’s the right tool to communicate your idea and vision. Since my interest lies in exploring the language and symbolism of early video games, it was a no-brainer. There is, however, a great deal of back and forth between working inside and outside of the computer. I typically sketch my ideas out first on paper and then execute them on the computer. From there I will either paint them in acrylic, or do limited edition giclee prints on canvas that I stretch on wood frames. What’s interesting with my work is that people often can’t tell the difference between the real paintings and the “synthetic” ones (the prints). I think that right there just underscores the fact that, no matter how physical or digital the medium, the ideas and images come from within the artist.

OA: What has been your proudest moment as an artist?
JB: The work that I’ve done with Paul at Headcase has brought us a lot of awards and accolades, but I feel like I’m still finding my way as an artist with my solo work. I hope that my proudest moment in that regard has yet to occur.

OA: Do you listen music while you create? Who are some of your favorite musicians to listen while working and in general? How does their music affect your product?
JB: Well of course I obsessively listen to video game cover bands like the Minibosses and Entertainment System, but I spend at least twelve hours a day listening to music, so my taste is pretty broad. I wouldn’t say any one artist or genre inspires me more than the rest; any really great music fires up my competitive need to try and create something no one has seen before. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to discover new music, so I tend to listen to whatever my friends recommend. Or blog sites like this one.

OA: What is next for Jude Buffum?
JB: I currently have four paintings, a series entitled Happy Endings, in the I Am 8-Bit show at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. It’s the same gallery that my wife and I had an installation of our BiTZ (Pixelated Palz) at back in January. I’m really inspired by “pervasive artists” like Gary Baseman (who coined the term) who seek to apply their creative vision to every outlet available, whether it be fine art for galleries, commercial illustration, or art toys. I guess the plan is to keep promoting the BiTZ, keep painting for the gallery shows, and promote my work for more commercial projects.

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
JB: Eight O’Clock’s Hazelnut blend feeds my daily addiction. When I need something stronger, CafĂ© Lift next door makes a great Latte, and the Chapterhouse (where I’ve had my art displayed before) has a great drink called a “Black and Tan” that is this amazing combination of espresso, chocolate, and peanut butter. It’s amazing.

OA: What is your all-time favorite video game?
JB: Warlords, for the Atari 2600. It was one of the first four player video games. When I was a kid I used to play it all night with my younger brother and parents. Very fond memories. And recent tournaments have proved that I can still kick anyone’s ass at it. Anyone.

For more information on Jude Buffum, or purchase his pieces or a plush BiTZ toy, visit his website or myspace.