Warhol, Lichtenstein, Pikachu: “Battle City” turns Pokémon into pop art
Pop art isn’t just for soup cans. The Internet is rife with mash-ups, fan art, and professional looking paintings of topics ranging from Frank Zappa as an Age of Sail admiral to Chewbacca and Han Solo re-imagined as Calvin and Hobbes. Steve Black Jr. launched a Kickstarter to turn Pokémon pictures into paintings six months ago. The resulting exhibition, “Battle City,” is set to open September 13 and 14 at the Milwaukee Enterprise Center, where paintings will be available for sale to those who think a Charizard would really tie the room together. The A.V. Club sat down with Black to discuss the international appeal of Pokémon, and didn’t even once make a “Gotta Catch Them All” reference. Until just now.
The A.V. Club: What inspired you to do a gallery night featuring Pokémon
Steve Black Jr.: I’ve ran a Pokémon website and podcast for over 3 years now. In doing so, I’ve met so many talented people. I loved going to galleries around Milwaukee and the Chicago area, and after getting back from Chicago expo, I thought, man, it would be cool if Milwaukee had something like this. Thinking about it more, I knew how to print and press art, and I knew a ton of artists. I knew those artists knew artists. I knew how to run an event because I do so every year at the Midwest Gaming Classic. I never ran an art show until last year, but it worked. The response was great. Battle City is the second year I am doing a Pokémon-inspired art show.
To answer the question, the lack of video game themed gallery nights was the inspiration. I just had Pokémon fans on my side.
AVC: How does Nintendo feel about this?
SB: I know both Nintendo and TCPi (The Pokémon Company International) follow fandom pretty closely. I also know that I am on their radar. They haven’t contacted me about the art shows directly. I am really only benefiting their products, so I guess they don’t mind. I would be curious to hear their thoughts.
AVC: Why did you decide on Kickstarter?
SB: The main reason was because I knew the Pokémon community wanted me to do the show again. Kickstarter allowed me to order the right amount of shirts, get a head start on funding, and allowed for even cooler rewards like coffee table art books. Kickstarter is a fantastic tool. The first year I did the show was August of 2012 at Bucketworks. It was a HUGE risk to me because I funded everything out of my own pocket. I had to cut corners and spend money wisely. The whole show last year put a $3,000 hole in my wallet. Due to the success, I was able to recoup the costs of those funds and I made an extra $1,000 on top of that. I donated that money to the Child’s Play charity.
AVC: How widespread are the artists? Local, national, international?
SB: The artists are international. Right off the top of my head, there are artists from Japan, Germany, Mexico, and Canada. There are more countries, too. We have about four to five Milwaukee artists in the mix too.
AVC: What else is going on during the opening?
SB: I’ve encouraged gallery seers to bring their 3DSs to trade and battle other Trainers. We’ll have a custom built Pokémon Pinball machine up and working. I am currently in talks with a DJ for all of Friday night, and I’m in talks with a local Milwaukee band performing for Saturday night. There is also an after show at 42 Lounge starting at 11 p.m. on Friday night. They will offer discounts to our gallery seers who show up for opening night. 42 Lounge will also feature most of the artwork digitally on their TVs at the show, too. I couldn’t be happier to partner with them.
AVC: Are there other video games you would like to feature in a future show?
SB: I was thinking of doing a Nintendo-based art show in late spring. This would be my second Pokémon-inspired show, and I don’t want to get too far away from that. It’s awesome that Pokémon is a part of the Nintendo family, so it would be really cool for that presence to be around next to a Zelda or Mario painting.