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Watercolor Pixel Art Portraits Remix Pop Culture & Classic Paintings

Adam Lister's pixel art remixes of Batman, Superman, and "The Son of Man" will be on display at his solo-show at The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco from Oct. 11 to Nov. 1.
October 11, 2014, 4:00pm

Images courtesy of The Shooting Gallery

We love seeing the different ways pixel art continues to adapt to modern culture, from giving a voice to star-crossed twitter bots, to making its way onto Norway's future currency, and watercolor painter Adam Lister's work is great example of how versatile the medium can be.

Lister's paintings, and their accomanying 3D-printed sandstone renderings, offer a unique variant on both classic art and pop culture. His neo-Cubist interpretations of both old and new masterworks smoothly blend flowing watercolors and rigid, blocky forms. After wowing online audiences and attendees of the Adam Lister Gallery in Fairfax, Virginia, his remixes of paintings like The Son of Man and comic book icons like Batman now get a chance to shine in his very first solo exhibition, Wet Geometry. Hosted by The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco, the show will last from Oct. 11 to Nov. 1.

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With ComicCon hitting NYC this weekend, we were more excited than ever to ask Lister about how he applies his high-art processes to our favorite comic book characters, and also those famous painters as well.

The Creators Project: Your work presents watercolor, a medium normally used for soft flowing paintings, in the rigid, square form of modern pixel art. How exactly do you achieve that effect?

Adam Lister: You're right, watercolor has a reputation for being a soft and flowing medium, and I think that's why I like using it in a different way. I think we all have perfectionist tendencies in our own strange ways, so gaining a precision with a tough to control medium like watercolor became my artistic obsession.

Technically speaking, each picture starts with a pencil drawing and I mainly work on heavyweight cold press paper so it soaks up the paint really well. I paint on dry paper using very fine point brushes. I like the juxtaposition of the rigidness and the softness—I think they are complementary.

What do you think is important about pixel art, and what value does interpreting it in watercolors add? 

To me "pixel art" conjures up memories of growing up in the 80's. It brings me back to all those old school video games we used to play. Personally, this aesthetic is interesting to me because its like an intersection of primitive digital graphics and geometric abstract painting. I find that interpreting my subjects in watercolor adds another layer of "handmade vintage" to the whole pixel art idea. Recently I've been seeing a lot of pixel inspired artwork out there in galleries and online, i guess its kind of a throwback for our generation.

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What about 3D printing those same forms?

Printing these pieces on a 3D printer brings the old and the new together, and I find that intriguing to explore. Its also a blend painting, sculpture, and the future of manufacturing. 3D printing as a concept has the potential to change the world, its a powerful new tool that might just reshape the whole idea of "making something."

In Wet Geometry, Batman and Superman hang side by side with Van Gogh and The Son of Man, how does that reflect your own ideas about pop culture versus classic art?

I think placing all images in the same arena of value is something that I'm drawn to, equalizing everything. Both pop culture and classic art are based off of a collective familiarity. I don't think that Van Gogh is anymore important than Marty McFly—it's all visual, it's all about memory.

How do you choose which iconic personas will populate your art?

I just paint subjects that I find interesting, classic, and iconic. I keep a large file of images that I work from, anything and everything from comic books, movie stills, and art history books. I want people to connect to my pictures, I like that. I think it's cool when art can speak to a diverse population. I don't want to make art that only a select few people can understand, we're all in this together.

What's barriers did you have to overcome in order to make Wet Geometry possible? We have a four-month-old baby girl now, so balancing dad time and studio time has been a bit tricky, but it's all good! The team at White Walls and Shooting Gallery in San Francisco are top-notch awesome people, very supportive and open minded. What did you learn in the process?

I feel like my compositions are developing a specific geometric-based language that I didn't fully recognize in the early stages of these pixel inspired paintings. The more pictures I make, the more consistent the underlying subtleties I notice.

Visit Adam Lister's website to see more of his unique 8-bit remixes, or purchase one of your very own here.

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