8-bit master: Artist’s Cubism-style draws inspiration from old video games

For an artist like Adam Lister, who grew up on video games and pop culture, you would assume he’d be making digital art or some type of computer-aided design as an adult. Instead, Lister’s technique is as old world as it gets: watercolors.

“I like the flow and transparency of watercolor,” Lister says. “I began using watercolors back in high school, and I never really stopped.”

But don’t expect watercolor paintings of flowers or landscapes. Lister creates a body of work he coined “8-bit Watercolors” – referencing the type of geometric games he played in the 1980s. “I like the idea of creating something with a digital aesthetic that is totally handmade,” says Lister, who’s based in Beacon, N.Y., just north of New York City.

While his art has that digital 8-bit quality to them, they are also based on the abstract art form known as Cubism.

“I often refer to these as 8-bit-inspired paintings, because technically speaking they aren’t fully ‘8-bit,’” Lister says. “A more accurate term [to describe me as an artist] might be ‘geometric reductionist.’ I basically break down and simplify each image and rebuild it with all right-angle shapes. My style has roots in cubism, abstraction, and pop art.  I also find visual inspiration in early video games, puzzles, and architecture.”

All of his watercolor pieces start off as pencil-and-ruler sketches on paper. “I don’t use any digital tools for these paintings,” Lister says.

Lister’s art subjects range from interpretations of Post-Impressionism (Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night), Symbolism (Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss), and Old Master (Diego Veláquez’s Las Meninas) artists, to the pop culture of his youth, such Star Wars, Goonies, Superman, and Mister Rogers. It may seem random, but Lister chooses them for a specific reason.

“I try to select subject matter that has a collective familiarity,” Lister says. “These paintings are about nostalgia and memory.  Like a lot of people having grown up in the 80s, I spent hours playing Atari and Nintendo games. That geometric world of escape is imprinted in my head as this kind of alternate reality full of endless pixelated distraction. I choose subjects that I’m connected to and images that I want to pay tribute to.”

While Lister’s digital-inspired art may be purely an analog medium, he is partnering with a fellow artist, Isaac Budmen, on printing his art using a 3D printer – in a kind of analog-meets-digital-meets analog approach.

“The 3D printing project is called ‘8 bits, 3 Dimensions,’” Lister says. “We take the scanned images of my paintings and build them into a 3D model. That file is then used to print the piece in full color sandstone. We have our 3D printing done by Shapeways. We currently have 14 pieces in the series and recently released our newest and largest print, (Edward Hopper’s) Nighthawks.

As for the future of 3D printing, Lister is excited by the potential for consumers. “You need a spoon or a mug or car part or a cat toy? Download the file and print it out, so cool,” he says. But in the art world, he isn’t too sure, but he recognizes “a lot of artists are utilizing the technology and doing absolutely beautiful work.”

Lister’s current work evolved from a previous style that “was mainly non-representational geometric abstract painting.” Where he goes from here remains to be seen, but he has several projects lined up, including commissioned work and an upcoming exhibit in October at The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco. If you want to own a piece of Lister’s art for your home, he has prints on his website for sale.

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