Sims and Fine Art: a duo I didn’t know I ever wanted. Until today. My newly hypothetical dreams have been come true and my inner 10-year-old self is screaming. Artist Pieter Schoolwerth has presented a collection of paintings at Petzel Gallery, New York inspired by the life-simulation game Sims 4. And, they are interesting to say the least.
Over the last few months, the pandemic has resulted in more time alone for most of us. Whether that was spent working from the offices of your dining-room table or through furlough fostering a culinary career making lemon drizzles and sourdough, many of us were left to our own devices. In addition to the online courses, which I embarked purely to shove useless facts down the throats of those in ‘my bubble’ and my optimistic desire to improve my chances at ever placing higher than last place in a pub quiz, like many others, I headed back to my pre-teen self and opened Origins to play Sims 4.
Schoolwerth has taken this childhood retreat one step further in his recent exhibition Shifted Sims. The show is his first solo exhibition in Petzel on 18th Street and shows the artist appropriating the EA game images with paints and adult scenes. Lucy Hunter, writing in the show’s Press Release, notes ‘Schoolwerth’s paintings of (often pants-less) avatars counter these riptides of isolation, approximating a shared affective experience of the present moment: the monumental, and the berserk.’
These are mixed-media pieces which use oil, acrylic, and inkjet on canvas. The artworks have enlarged screenshots from the gameplay as its background forming the foundation of the work. Compositionally the paintings are cubists in nature, with an interesting fragmentation of form and shape; the artist has used the gameplay graphics as a spring board for painterly gestures. The textural difference between marks made by man and marks made by computer or mediated through digital software’s, creates a remarkable juxtaposition, and gives the work immense visual curiosity.
Shifted sims #10 (Male Pregnancy Mod) shows numerous birth and parenting scenes, all of which are deconstructed by negative shapes and overlaid by painterly abstractions. From a central robot mother and an alien baby in the foreground, to the male Sim with prominent bump which commands focal attention, this piece seemingly has it all. Although, in my mind, the painting remains in the realm of irony in sim-appropriation-art, it can be seen to lead to much larger topics and conversations, proving a heavier set of reflections for the viewer. Shifted sims #17 (Wicked Woo-hoo Sex Mod) is also striking but is most defiantly not PG 13, showing reference to bestiality and a blowjob. If you thought that Sims in a high art establishment was strange, canvas coexistence with such themes has made the work incalculably weirder.
Whilst several content creators have for years forged a career out of the game, with Simmer and Simming being a prominent ‘sub-culture’ of YouTube, now it is time for the fine arts to be similarly be slapped by the Sims. Schoolwerth demonstrates a commitment to updating the discipline of figurative painting beyond that of the masterful glint in Vemeer’s pearl or the ever-looking eyes of Miss Mona Lisa in his digital-infused, technologically attenuated paintings.
I reflect why I, a child who stayed up way past his bedtime, playing Sims on the family desktop under the stairs who also loved painting and has now gone onto studying Art History, never thought to have come up with this body of work. I question what this will mean for future relationships between the gaming and high institutionalised Art.
Will we next be seeing Animal Farm Architecture or SuperMario Bro’s sculpture?
Who knows. We will simply have to wait and see.
Cover image: Shifted Sims #17 (Infuencer Career) 2020, Oil, Acrylic, inkjet on canvas, 96 x 131 inches.
All images courtesy of petzel.com